7 Effective Strategies to Transform Your Bad Habits

January is the time for many to reflect on the past year and plan for what you want for the upcoming time. Whether for business or personal, use these seven strategies to get your best results.

ONE: Quit multi-tasking your habit change and do just one at a time.

You likely have a list of the things that aren’t working for you. And in the zeal of the New Year resolution energy, it is tempting to want to sweep them all magically away.

This “tackle it all at once” tendency is a result of our cultural focus on excessive expectations that you should be able to do it all.

The reality is that habit change is a process that, like it or not, takes a bit of time. Yogic science says it takes 40 days to change a habit and 90 days to create a new one. That means you can truly change and create a new habit just 4 times in a year.

You may be thinking, “Wow that sucks. I have so much more I want to change.” Or you may be celebrating the permission to take things off your to-do list.

Any way you slice it, if you want to make a lasting change effective, slow down and focus on just one habit at a time.

And if you’re an uber doing kind of a person and just one makes you feel like a light-weight? Don’t worry, as you’ll see below, even changing one habit has many steps to put your focus and energy on.

Keep in mind the goal is to make effective, lasting change. Trying to do too much at once is by its very nature destabilizing. In Ayurveda, excess movement increases the vata dosha – yep that one that creates those fun feelings of anxiety, fear, overwhelm, and panic. Certainly don’t want more of those qualities!

Vata governs all transitions and its nature is light. To let go, you need to shift the heavy entrenched pattern and that lightness is needed to move and shift. But too much lightness leaves you floating up in the air – totally ungrounded. Being ungrounded will kick in your primal need for stability and the reptilian sense of survival instincts along with those overlapping vata emotions of fear, anxiety, and stress

By sequencing your habit change and really giving your focused attention to one thing, you create enough lightness without tipping the stability boat over.

TWO: Keep it real.

You decide to tackle your eating habits to shift those extra 10 pounds that are hanging around your belly and hips in a not so flattering way.

But that tendency to go big or go home is still driving you.

Instead of thinking, “Hey, if I’m going to keep this up for 40 days I need to be reasonable,” you shoot for the whole kit and caboodle and say “I’m not going to have any treats or snacks – just 3 solid meals – and cut processed sugar completely from my diet.”

Sounds good in theory. Three healthy meals with the right balance of foods and tastes is ideal.

However, the ideal and reality are two very different things.

Suddenly your meeting has stretched over the lunch hour. Now you don’t have time to eat that lunch and your hunger levels are rising as fast as a tidal wave, threatening to wash over all your will power. Your mind thinks, “I’ll just have a healthy snack – a handful of almonds – to tide me over this next meeting until I can get to my lunch.” Not a bad strategy for the situation.

But then your absolute expectation pops its stern face back up. “Your commitment is no snacks!” And suddenly your real physical need is in conflict with your mental expectation and the tower starts to crumble. Since you’ve “given in” with the almonds, the old trigger of “if I can’t do it perfectly, I failed and might as well just have that brownie, too” kicks in. And the downward slide rapidly accelerates.

Save yourself the struggle.

Keep your expectations flexible enough to ride the waves of daily unpredictability.

THREE: Before you act, create structure and consistency.

You’ve got your goal for habit change set in your mind and you’re ready to rock and roll.

Wait – don’t start yet.

Before diving in with an actual action step, start by simply noticing.

Say you’re goal is use Facebook less to help your time management. Before starting to use it less, start by counting how many times you are doing it. Basically, pay attention to where your current pattern is. By bringing the habit from the subconscious to the conscious level you begin to shift things.

I also like to claim, without judgment, the emotion or feeling behind why I’m doing the habit. Ask yourself as you go to use Facebook, “What am I looking for? What emotion or need is driving it?” It could be you’re using it as a procrastination device. Or that you get a surge of excitement in seeing how people respond to you. Or maybe it fuels feeling connected.

Then keep doing the habit but try to make the times consistent each day. Creating structure not only continues the process of bringing a level of conscious to the habit, but also takes the power back into your hands.

This application of conscious self-control empowers you. And you begin to build success.

Behavioral economist Howard Rachlin found that just by decreasing the variability of the behavior, it actually began to shift the behavior without focusing on the behavior change itself.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, this makes sense. Variability increases the vata dosha which creates feelings of instability, making changes more difficult. Consistency and regularity are the most important ways to balance vata. Since many negative habits are connected to stress triggers, when you create more stability, you respond better to stress and need the pacifying tool less.

FOUR: Change your environment.

The field of behavioral economics highlights two channels of change – “changing minds” or working with consciousness and “changing context” by making changes in the physical environment.

For example, when there became a goal to recycle more plastic bags, grocery stores put out bins to make collecting them easier. To encourage recycling in communities, households were supplied recycling bins that were picked up with the trash. Reducing the need to separate items by types within the bins boosted the rate of recycling even higher.

Changing the environment to either make it easier or harder to take action can be applied to all types of behavioral shifts.

If you want to discourage a habit at home or work, you shift something in your environment that makes that habitual action a little harder. In doing so, you interrupt the pattern and set the stage to create a new behavior. Examples of this would be:

  • Moving your smart phone from the nightstand to another room so that you don’t wake up first thing in the morning and check emails, Facebook or online news and go straight into work mode.
  • Keeping certain foods out of the house so that if you want it, you have to go out to get it.
  • Even choosing to spend less time with certain friends or places that influence the behavior you’re trying to shift. If you want to quit smoking and you continue to hang out with friends in bars who smoke, the temptation to keep smoking is going to have a strong pull.

Author Shwan Achor has a “20 second rule” to create a slight delay that interrupts the automated pattern. Do anything that makes the unwanted habit 20 seconds harder to begin. His example is taking out the batteries of a remote control to decrease watching too much television. Sometimes you’ll do the extra work. Sometimes it allows you to make a different choice.

FIVE: Release the inner pressure.

While you might think that you need a drill sergeant to get you motivated or an intense taskmaster to whip you into shape, neuroscience shows the opposite.

Stress and pressure increase the bad habits.

Stress short circuits the prefrontal cortex which is where most thought and planning occurs and plays a major role as to which habits are switched on at any given moment.

There is enough stress in the outer world without you adding to it with internal pressure. Which is why it’s important to keep expectations real and not try to do too much at once which creates overwhelm.

Another way to keep your internal stress barometer down is to remember to be gentle and compassionate with yourself when you stumble.

With any process, there are blips and bumps along the way. It is normal that you will revert to your old habits from time to time, especially during times of high stress.

If you hit a blip in your change road, the key is to treat it like a mini speed bump, not a sinkhole.

Think, “It’s a temporary slow down, a minor course correction or adjustment. No big deal.”

Because if you fall into the “all or nothing” mindset sinkhole and start going all self critical, you will quickly find yourself on a binge of guilt and chastisement that not only fuels the worst excess of your old habit, but also puts the motivation brakes on your positive change.

Many experts will argue that learning and shifts only come through the “failures”.

Let yourself stumble and know that its part of the process. Anyone who says they made a change perfectly in one straight line is lying.

SIX: Think replace instead of eliminate.

The bodymind doesn’t like a void.

Trying to cold turkey stop a habit without having something in place to meet the legitimate need the habit was serving will take you right back to that habit.

This is because habits are connected to true needs. The way you’re trying to meet that need may not be helpful, but the need is real.

Habit success then comes down to getting clear on what the underlying need is and finding better substitutes.

Let’s go back to the first New Year goal of losing weight. It is obvious that eating refined sugar treats – donuts, cakes, cookies – may be contributing to excess weight. So you may make a logical conclusion that by reducing or getting rid of those sugar-carb bombs is great. And it’s true – if you can do it.

But because the sweet taste is linked to nourishment and love on an emotional and psychological layer, you are gaining something other than taste with those treats. If you take them away without something else that meets your emotional need, it is a set up for not being able to follow through.

A better solution is to reduce your processed sugar treats with a healthier treat.

In Ayurveda, the sweet taste actually makes up 80% of our food – grains, meats, vegetables, fruits, milk. The problem is that you’ve gotten addicted to added, excess sweeteners which have distorted feeling satisfied with the natural sweetness in foods.

Shifting straight from a donut to a piece of sweet fruit likely isn’t going to do the trick, at least all of the time. A better bet is switching from white and refined sweeteners to baked goods made with more natural sweeteners – dates, maple syrup, honey.

For even better results, combine this with strategy number three by having your treat at the same time every day. Or find additional ways to meet your emotional need for love than food.

SEVEN: Reframe your pattern mindset with two simple words.

This last one is going to sound ridiculously easy.

I just learned about this technique and am loving the simple but powerful way changing your mental plan around behavior in advance changes the actions.

According to the book “9 Things Successful People Do Differently”, two specific words – If and Then – help restructure not only the sentence but also your expectation and behavior.

You start by identifying the connection of why you always do certain things. For instance, “Whenever I watch TV, I always snack.”

Add the two magical If and Then words and change the part B part of that sentence to what you want to do instead that is healthier. “If I watch TV, then I will drink a cup of herbal tea,” becomes the new statement and plan.

According to the book “Well over a hundred studies, on everything from diet and exercise to negotiation and time management, have shown that deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal (e.g., “If it is 4 p.m., then I will return any phone calls I should return today”) can double or triple your chances for success. The results were dramatic: weeks later, 91 percent of if-then planners were still exercising regularly, compared to only 39 percent of nonplanners!”

This process can be used to support any goal.   Try it and see how it works for you!

©2017, Jamie Durner.  Jamie Durner is a Certified Life Coach and Ayurveda Practitioner who supports individuals to “Be Your Best” through healthy lifestyle changes and learning to live aligned with your core magnificent self.

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