My dad used to stand with his hands in his pants pockets and jingle the captured coins with his right hand. I remember the sound. I remember seeing his knuckles move behind the fabric. My dad had two brothers. I only met my uncles a couple times in my life. On one occasion, I clearly recall the three of them standing together with their hands in their pants pockets. They looked like brothers and they were each jingling the coins trapped inside their front right pockets.
How did they learn that? Did my grandfather jingle coins? When did it become a habit for each of them?
Daily, we do habitual behaviors with little to no acknowledgement at all. Like, jingling coins or smacking when we chew. There used to be a television show called “The Newlywed Game”. The host asked the Newlyweds’ questions. The goal was to discover how well the newly married couples knew each other. It was hilarious to hear what the answer was compared to what the spouse thought the answer was. Exposed habits were frequently the brunt of the laughter and occasional arguments.
If you are a people watcher like I am, habits make a fascinating study.
We are all creatures of habit, both good and bad. Our repetitive behaviors become habitual and those automatic actions denote our customary way of behaving. They show off what we count as important or what we deem acceptable. They are generally performed quickly and they commonly reside somewhere between conscious and unconscious thought. We typically don’t acknowledge them much.
All habits have a function and we need most of the habits we have. They give us routine to our day and they provide us with freedom from having to think about every little thing we do. We are wired to learn and sustain life without giving it a moment’s thought. Thanks to our habits, we live on autopilot a fair amount of the time.
But what if we want to change a habit? How do we undo what is automatic?
The good news is, changing a habit is possible. Bad habits can be broken! Here are six habit changing steps you can try.
- Identify the Purpose
Because habits, both good and bad, serve a purpose, it is important to identify what purpose they serve. For instance, brushing your teeth every morning keeps you out of the dentist chair and surfing the web for hours or obsessing on your phone keeps you from having to start that dreaded project or interacting with the people around you. By identifying the habits’ purpose, you will become more aware of the steps you will need to take to break it.
- Isolate the Problem
When identifying the function of the habit, you may recognize a problem the habit is covering. For instance: Avoidance. Using the internet or zoning out on video games to avoid conversation with your family. Low self-esteem. Binge eating for comfort to numb your feelings of insecurity. Inadequacy. Drinking alcohol to fit in socially.
Defining the problem the habit is solving is important. Dealing with that problem is even more important. Replacing a negative habit with a positive one is a good way to start. Realize however, that when real life gets in the way, willpower is usually not enough to keep the old ways at bay. Depending upon the problem uncovered, this step may take help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend, coach, therapist, or support group.
- Commit in Writing
Writing out goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound and keeping those goals front and center where you see them often, has been researched and shown to be a very effective step in changing habits. Be sure to break large long-term goals down into bite sized short-term targets.
As well as writing out goals, an agreement, such as a behavior contract between you and a health coach or a trusted friend, can be considered. Typically, an agreement like this outlines a set of behaviors you want to complete with a time line attached. This works well when replacing a bad habit with a good one.
- Don’t Go It Alone
As previously touched on, there is real power in reaching out to a trusted friend, a counselor, a coach or a support group when necessary. Others see you through a different lens than you see yourself. With their perspective, they can lead you to understand things from a new point of view. By being accountable and by both giving and receiving support, the goal stays in focus, keeps you on track, and makes change possible.
- Take it Slow
Bad habits are hard to change. Initially they were behaviors learned and adopted for a purpose. Unwinding that learning and that adoption takes time and patience. Focus on the long-term advantages of making this change. You are developing a new purpose, a new reason, and a new behavior. When you make progress, celebrate the success and continue to review solutions to any difficulties that arise. Give yourself enough time.
- Allow Do-Overs
I often say three steps forward, two back. Nobody is perfect. Everyone slips up now and then. It is part of the human condition and it is not a reason to give up. When you find yourself in a lapse, acknowledge where you are, where you have been, and where you want to go. Start right where you are and move forward. Spend more time gathering information about why you slipped and less time beating yourself up over it. With the new information, revise your plan if necessary and start again. I believe in do-overs. Tomorrow is another day filled with opportunities.
Changing a habit is possible. Bad habits can be broken! A wise man once said, “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.” Go for it! You can do it!
Karen Creasey is a Speaker, Author, Health Coach, and Personal Trainer. She is passionate about motivating, inspiring and educating people to improve their health, wellness and overall life performance. Karen is the cheerleader everyone needs! Find her on www.karencreasey.com