My 8 year old has quite an aggressive personality. She has an overactive “fairness radar” and if she feels wronged by you, you'd better run. Or duck. Yesterday during a calm moment, I explained to her that getting angry and hitting her sister has become a (bad) habit, and we need to work on breaking that habit. We talked through some actions steps to do so, and that led me to think about how we all have unfavorable behavior patterns. Sometimes we just need a starting point and a plan about HOW we can change them.
If you are struggling to lose weight, for example, chances are you have some habits that are preventing you from doing so.
It’s not completely a matter of self-control or will power. It’s a matter of CHANGING a habit. That doesn’t mean that habit changing is easy- our brains have become deeply wired by the constant repetition of our daily activities. But the good news is, we can re-train (re-wire) our brain to make new pathways towards more desirable behavior patterns.
Here are a few action steps to get you started. Example (a.) is in reference to my daughter’s anger, (b.) is in reference to me stress eating about it. ;)
1. Identify the habit and acknowledge how it is affecting you negatively.
a. I threw the remote at my sister and then I got in trouble. (true story)
b. I snack when I’m stressed about my children fighting and I cannot reach my weight loss goal if that continues. (also true story)
2. Be willing and prepared to make a change!
3. Recognize the trigger that leads to your undesired habit. If this is hard to do, work backwards. What were you thinking or feeling just before you engaged in the habit?
a. My sister was mean, I got angry and wanted revenge.
b. My kids stress me out and then I grab a bag of chips from the pantry.
4. Make a plan! Be proactive by planning a substitute action to break the pattern. These need to be specific and do-able.
a. When I feel angry and about to explode, I will shout that I am angry and storm off instead of lashing out at my sister.
b. When my kids start fighting, I will lock myself in the bathroom and cry I will walk away, take 3 deep breaths and drink a glass of water.
5. Create prompts that will remind you to stick to your new habit.
a. I told my daughter I would let her know when I see her anger is escalating.
b. I will put a sign on the pantry door to remind me of my goals.
Habit change is HARD, but being persistent and patient is what will make the new pattern stick. You will slip up sometimes, but forgive yourself and move on.
Some bad habits, especially addictions will likely need some professional insight. Don’t be afraid to reach for that if you’re having a hard time with a dangerous habit or behavior pattern.
Got a habit in mind that you want to change? Go through the steps above and make a game plan. Track your successes and that will fuel your determination to not give up!