Bad habits come in all shapes and sizes. From avoiding chores to self-sabotaging relationships, bad habits can be a part of your life in many different ways. Putting off the dishes, picking at my nails when I’m nervous and second-guessing relationships when there’s a little bit of distance in communication are just a few of mine. This winter has been quite the struggle when it comes to my mental health with all the changes in my daily life as well as struggles with my relationships I haven’t taken the best care of myself mentally. A lot of these habits have manifested themselves in response to these struggles and now that I can finally move forward there have been some little things I’ve learned to work on these habits and get rid of them for good.
But what causes bad habits? Why do we create these irritating habits? Well, most bad habits are caused by either stress or boredom. When I’m stressed out I tend to do a lot of online shopping to try to make myself feel better or distract myself from life. Or when I’m bored or without distractions, I will often think about my relationships and will often times come up with scenarios in my head that are unfounded and rather negative. When we can identify these behaviors and what triggers them we can work toward creating positive responses to these triggers instead.
Define the Behavior You Want to Change or Develop
As I mentioned in order to change habits you first have to figure out what they are. In a weird way, it’s like goal setting. You have to identify the specifics of the habit you are trying to break. These should be specific, doable behaviors like not eating sugar when bored or stressed, instead of replacing sweets with healthy alternatives like fresh fruit or veggies. Not jumping to conclusions and being patient when I don’t hear from loved ones. When you can identify these bad habits you can find positive solutions to them.
Identify the triggers.
Along with fleshing out the specifics of the habit you can also identify the triggers that cause them. Like I said typically boredom or stress can cause these bad actions but I’ve also found especially with my bad habits when it comes to my relationships those are learned behaviors from past experiences. My past relationships silence or lack of contact became a trigger for my wandering mind and negative thoughts because in past relationships that mean a lack of interest in me or an end to the relationship. Or when I’m bored I find I crave sweets or when I’m stressed I tend to impulse buy. Physical things can also be triggers for bad habits like the refrigerator can trigger that eating habit. If you have a hard time figuring out the trigger work backward, I also find journaling to be a great way to identify these triggers.
I recently started doing this. I will take about 20 to 30 minutes before bed to write down the highlights from my day, if something notable happened I will write it down and how it made me feel. At first I really had no idea how to journal and the idea of adding it to my routine kind of stressed me out, I didn’t want to sound whiney or write about the same things over and over again without any change but as soon as I started it came rather easily. I just wrote like I was sending a letter to a pen pal. Keeping a journal and making sure to think about your habits and writing them down when you do them can help you identify the trends.
Deal with the triggers
Now that you’ve identified your triggers it’s time to deal with them… by acknowledging your triggers you can then eliminate them and therefore get ahead of your habits. Now in a perfect world we would just flip a switch and get rid of our stress or boredom but that’s not so realistic. So instead we should think about getting rid of the temptations with those emotions arise. Like stress eating junk food, if you get rid of all the junk food temptations and replace them with healthy options or when I’m having a hard time dealing with distance, I will go for a walk, or journal or work on blog stuff. Those positive distractions or healthy alternatives can be a great way to change the narrative of your habits.
With this idea, you’re changing the larger pattern of your bad habits. If you know you aren’t much of a morning person but you know you keep putting off the gym because you have no motivation to go after work either maybe try taking a quick class or take a run on the treadmill during your lunch break. Find alternatives to what drives your bad habits and your triggers for continuing those habits.
Support and reward yourself.
Now all of this sounds really really daunting, there’s a lot to think about and that might become overwhelming. Its often hard to identify these triggers and come up with alternatives. So don’t be afraid to ask for help. Just like anything when it comes to your mental health asking for help should never be something you’re embarrassed about. In January I began seeing a therapist through Better Help and it was the best thing I could have done. I’ve always been someone who could talk about her feelings and I have always felt like I’m pretty insightful when it comes to my emotions but I’m also very emotional and often times can become blinded by that emotion.
I let my stress specifically drive a lot of my emotional impulsive decisions. But talking to a therapist I’ve had the ability to just talk about my feelings without feeling like I’m going to upset someone. She has given me worksheets to work through that have given me a lot of insight into behaviors and positive alternatives.
Along with asking for help rewarding yourself for your hard work is always a good way to motivate you to keep going. Changing habits is really difficult so when you do will you should give yourself rewards. I don’t know if you were one of those studiers in college that would set a goal and reward yourself with a gummy bear or social media time when you finished a certain amount of reading or an amount of a paper written but you can apply this same principle to your habits. If you go spend free for a certain amount of time and put money away into savings and at the end of the month you can make on small purchase.
Be Persistent and Patient
Finally, this is probably the most important part…and that is to be patient with yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you aren’t going to instantly fix your bad habits and you should take each baby step as a huge win. Just like when I became a vegetarian, I started with just one meatless day a week and then a couple months later we went to eating meat only on the weekends and from there the choice was easy to just cut meat altogether, focus on each habit on its own and don’t try to take on too much at once.
Patience and leaning on others for strength and guidance is what will get you through your transition to better habits. But first you have to identify your triggers and what exactly is at the root of your habits. Once you are able to identify your habits, their triggers, and how to substitute those habits you are likely to say goodbye faster. What are some of your bad habits?