Another new year, another New Year’s resolution. Whether you vow to stop smoking, lose weight, exercise more or take on another challenge, making the decision is the first step and committing to it is the second. Then comes the difficult part: sticking with it.
Taking an internal inventory of your habits and why you have them is a good place to start, says psychologist Jeremy Dean, author of “Making Habits, Breaking Habits.”
“A lot of habits are performed subconsciously,” he says. “People light a cigarette or eat automatically. That’s part of the reason it’s hard to break a bad habit. Another problem is self-control issues on top of that.”
Once you’ve done some soul-searching and are ready to change, Dean says it’s less about deprivation and more about substitution. You need to also avoid situations that trigger the habit. For example, if you’re trying to cut back on caffeine, turn your 3 p.m. coffee break into a walk around the office.
“It’s a mistake to suppress the habit,” he says. “Replace it with good ones instead. Make a plan for a new habit and link it to a situation where you perform the bad habit. Look for a point in the day when you will perform the new habit. Each time you repeat a behavior, the habit gets stronger. Over time, it will become automatic.”
Go your own way
There are many common bad habits — smoking, overspending and nail-biting, to name a few — but success with quitting isn’t universal:
“It’s important to do what’s right for you,” says Dean. “We’re told that exercising in the morning is best. Well, I’m not getting up early to exercise, so I exercise in the afternoon — it suits my schedule. Also, tweak your approach. If it doesn’t work the first time, then move it around a little until it feels right. Breaking habits can take experimentation until it works for you.”