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Habits: How to lose bad ones adapt good ones and create new ones during lockdown

Taking the Positive out of Weird Times It’s all a bit strange at the moment and you’re probably feeling a bit out of control in your life and so now’s a great time to take control where you can - your habits!

We’re all having to change the way we behave to some extent or another, and this can mean that as we’re out of routine we can’t complete or it’s harder to complete habits that we’ve already established.

Now this isn’t necessarily bad news all round, how many times have you said you’re going to cut down on your coffee intake or stop buying chips or chocolate bars after lunch? These habits are easy to fulfil when you’re surrounded by shops and cafes but potentially harder to maintain when working from home or following guidelines to avoid . Use this opportunity to try and replace ‘bad’ habits you’ve been meaning to break for a while.

All the habits in our life, both good and bad are in your life for a reason. They are providing some benefit in your life, even if in other ways they are bad for you. So trying to go cold turkey and just stop, can be like pushing a boulder up a hill as your body is looking for the benefit this habit provided. It’s important then to identify what perceived benefit your body is getting from this habit so you can replace it with a healthier habit that still provides the benefit.

What are the causes of bad habits? The majority of bad habits are caused by either stress or boredom. In the current climate both of these could be regular visitors and so having a plan of action is crucial.

Read on below for some tips on replacing bad habits....

Tips to break bad habits:

Remove as many triggers as possible: A trigger is defi ned as an event that kicks off the automatic urge to complete a habit. Which means we want to remove as many triggers as possible. This is where we can draw a positive from the current situation as if you’re no longer able to just pop to the coffee shop, it’s harder to fulfi l the habit of buying a coffee several times a day. If you have a habit of eating a sweet treat from the local cafe at 3pm every afternoon, that is no longer an option. If you want to reduce the time spent on your phone, turn off push notifi cations and put your phone out of sight. This step is all about making it easy for yourself to break bad habits by removing things that cause them.

Choose a replacement for your bad habit: Have a plan for what you are going to do in place of the bad habit. For example, instead of buying a chocolate bar and then feeling angry with yourself, have a healthy snack on hand and notice how much better you feel after it. When you’re feeling stressed stop and take 5 deep breaths. Whatever habit you want to break, make sure you have a plan to do something else instead to give yourself the best chance of dropping that habit.

Enrol family and friends to support you: Let them know what you’re trying to do so they jump on board to support you. You might not be able to see friends and family at the moment but there’s plenty of ways they can still support you. Ask one of them to be your accountability partner and check in with you by sending you a message to see how you’re getting on. Just knowing that someone is going to be asking you how you’re doing helps.

Visualise yourself succeeding & how you’ll feel: See yourself replacing your bad habits and think about how you’ll feel. Proud, happy, smiling, healthier, reduced stressed and not controlled by your bad habit.

How to Maintain Healthy Habits When You’re out of Routine So you may already have created some great habits but it may be getting harder to maintain them with a change to your normal routine. Things are changing all the time and it’s important to adapt your current good habits so you can maintain them

It may have been a habit to get up and go to the gym first thing before heading into work, but you may now be working from home and won’t be able to go to the gym, so you need to adapt. If you like exercising in the morning, get up at your normal time and go for a run or do one of the thousands of free workouts on the internet. Joe Wicks aka The Body Coach has hundreds of free workouts for all ages from little kids through to seniors and for most you don’t need any equipment ( UCAxW1XT0iEJo0TYlRfn6rYQ).

It’s definitely harder to motivate yourself when you’re stuck at home and possibly feeling bored, a bit sorry for yourself and just wanting to watch Netflix, but you already have a great habit of working out which means you’ve done the hard part in creating that habit.

Ask yourself why you do it? Do you feel great afterwards? Does it keep you sane (which will definitely come in handy at the moment)? Keep that reason in mind when you wake up in the morning and get up & go!

With all established good habits, you’ve managed to create and maintain these habits for a reason. So when you’re feeling unmotivated and the chocolate and Netflix is calling, keep that reason front and centre. Once you’ve completed your habit, sit for a minute and think about how you feel. Do you feel better? Why do you feel better? Let all the good reasons for completing your good habit sink in and then next time you feel some resistance to completing it, it will be that little bit easier to motivate yourself.

Creating New Habits in Your New Normal Most of us have got more time on our hands at the moment, and so now is the perfect time to create some new healthy habits. Research varies on how long it takes to form a new habit but 21 days is banded around a lot and so with 4 weeks of lockdown (in NZ), it’s like this is what lockdown was created for!

I’m sure we’ve all recently thought about doing something good for us (how are those New Year resolutions going?!), so make a list of what you’d like to do.

Whatever may be on your list, whether it be to exercise more, to eat more healthily, get more sleep, to start a mindfulness practice, read more, the way to make success more likely is to start small, like tiny!

How many of us when trying to exercise more say “Right, that’s it, I’m going to go to the gym 4 times this week for at least an hour!”? And how many times have we successfully maintained that habit? Going to the gym isn’t possible at the moment anyway, but imagine instead if your goal was to do 2 sit ups? Yes, you did read that correctly, that’s just 2 sit ups. No one can possibly fail when your goal is just 2 sit ups, but the chances are you may well do more. 2 sit ups could turn into 10 and possibly some press ups as well, but if you only do your 2 sit ups, you’ve still hit your goal (it’s important to have the mindset that does believe you hit your goal with 2 sit ups). And you may start feeling great and want to do more.

Similarly if you want to build a reading habit, set your goal at something like reading 1 page a day. So small it’s almost impossible to not complete.

Below are some more tips on creating a sustainable new habit:

  • ✦  Put triggers in your environment: With bad habits we remove the trigger but with creating good habits we want to have the trigger in sight. So if you want to read more, leave the book out where you can see it. If you want to eat more fruit, have a fruit bowl out in view. Get your workout clothes out the night before. You get the idea!

  • ✦  Habit stacking: Research shows that you’re far more likely to complete a new habit if you complete it straight after doing an already established habit. For example, every day after you brush your teeth you’re going to do 2 press ups. Your trigger here is brushing your teeth that you already do everyday, easy!

  • ✦  Set up accountability: This part is key! You need someone to check in with you to make sure you are completing your habits. Just knowing someone is going to ask you about it makes you more likely to complete it. This is still easy in the current climate as everyone has a phone and can send a quick message to check on you. Or you can agree to send them a message everyday to say you’ve completed it! This has an extra bonus of keeping you connected to friends or family that you can’t visit at the moment!

  • ✦  Remove obstacles/set yourself up for success: Think about what could get in your way completing your new habit. Could be kids being around all the time at the moment and so perhaps agree with your partner that at a certain time you have some time to yourself to complete your new habit. You can then reciprocate so you both can nail some new habits! Whatever you think may potentially stop you, remove it or fi nd a way to work around it. By planning this in advance you are far more likely to succeed.

  • ✦  Celebrate success!: If you’re nailing your habit, celebrate it! Tell your friends and family. This could have the added benefi t of inspiring them to start a new habit. Let’s get everyone starting new habits during lockdown!

  • ✦  Think about how to adapt the habit when things get back to normal: We’re not going to be in lockdown forever and so it’s important that you can transition these habits back into normal life. You don’t want to lose your great habits you’ve worked so hard on. Again have a plan on how this will happen to give yourself every chance of success!

Follow these simple tips and tricks and you’ll be coming out of lockdown a habit master!


Published 31 March 2020

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