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Changing Habits

A habit is something that you do automatically and without any thought. An example could be brushing your teeth before bed.

A behaviour is an intentional action. You have to think about the action and it requires effort. This might be learning a new skill or cooking a new recipe.

Over time, a repeated behaviour can turn into an automatic and mindless habit.

Now that can be a very handy thing because some self care tasks can be made into habits which do us good- eg cleaning teeth, brushing hair, washing hands before a meal. But it can also be a bad thing when the habit is something which we want to stop doing- such as smoking at coffee break or when we feel anxious, or snacking when we arrive home from work.

Bad habits can stop us from achieving a goal that we have. So, what if you were able to rewire your brain to make habitual the actions which do help you achieve your goals?

Making a new habit requires three ingredients: A cue, a routine action and a reward.

The trigger or cue might be a time or a place or another action. Eg when you arrive home from work you always pour yourself a glass of wine.

The cue is arriving home, the action is drinking the wine and the reward is the enjoyable small and taste of the wine and the relaxed feeing that you get after having it.

The kore you practise a habit, the stronger and less intentional it becomes.

Creating a new habit can be broken down into three steps.

  1. Decide on the habit which you want to create, make it simple and small, something that you want to do every day. Eg You want to make time for a short walk every day.

  2. Plan where and when you will do the new habit, ie what the cue will be. Eg when my alarm goes off in the morning I will get up, get dressed and go for a 10 minute walk.

  3. When the cue arrives (the alarm going off), you practise the new habit. The reward is a feeling of achievement, a feeing of wellbeing from having started the day with a walk and. an increasing ability to walk for 10 minutes with ease.

How long will it be before this new habit 'sticks' and becomes your morning routine? Some people say 21 days but research suggest that it can take between 18 and 254 days before an action becomes a habit!

The easier the habit and the more you repeat it, the faster it becomes a habit. If your goal is a big one, break it down into smaller simpler steps and just work on one small change at a time. There's nothing like success to spur you on to even greater success!

Using a habit tracker such as an alarm, a diary or an app. can significantly increase the chances of success.

Remember, will power takes a lot of energy and it is easily depleted, especially when we are tired, fed up or bored. Feel compassion for yourself instead of beating yourself up: Rest, sleep, meditate or pause then start again. Remind yourself of the reward that will come from adopting the new habit. How will you feel?

It will soon become a habit and will power won't be required anymore!

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