Change Your Habits, Change Your Life

August 13, 2013

Do you have a hard habit to break?

Habits fill your life. Most of life is habitual. You do the same things you did yesterday, the day before, every day for the last month, and every day the last year. Habits provide continuity, stability and predictability in an ever-changing world. Habits, good or bad, play a big part of your daily existence. The key is controlling them. If you know how to change your habits, then even a small effort can create big changes. Even little changes that, when put on autopilot, can result in an improved quality of life.

9 Tips to Change Your Habits and Change Your Life

1. One at a time — Just as Rome wasn’t built in one day, neither are habits. If you take on too much, chances are you’ll become overwhelmed. Pick one habit you want to change and make that your priority for 30 days. Within the 30 days, that is all you’re giving your attention to. By focusing on one habit for 30 days, you become conditioned to have it as an automatic program that will become your new norm.

2. Keep it simple— Your change for a habit needs to be kept simple. Simple changes create habits, complex changes create headaches.

3. One habit at a time — 30 days may seem like a long time to focus on one habit, but don’t fall into the mindset of doing too much too soon. By giving your full attention to one habit, you increase the probability of making it stick. Don’t dilute this process by multitasking between three or four habits to change. Keep it to one habit because if you do too much, it often means none become habits.

4. Exchange behaviors — Habits fulfill a need that you have. You can’t eliminate a habit without replacing it with another. You can’t pull out a habit without replacing the need it satisfies. For example, if you snack in the evening while watching television, you need to replace that behavior with something else. Give your hands something else to do besides the hand-to-mouth satisfaction that snacking gives you. Keep your hands busy. Take up a hobby, such as knitting or playing a computer game. Analyze your habit and the need it fulfills. Replace it with something else that is better for you.

5. “Like” your exchange - The difference between the long-term change to a habit and giving up on day 31 is that you like the new habit. If your new habit creates more pain in your life than joy, it is going to be hard to stick to it. Don’t go to the gym if you hate it. Make sure that the habit you exchange for one that fits into your life, and it is an acceptable (or better!) swap. Make sure your habit exchange is one you can stick to, is fun and supports you.

6. Brain train with a trigger - A trigger is a quick ritual you perform before a habit. Essentially, you are retraining your brain when you ditch an old habit and replace it with a new one. If you want to stop snacking, you could step outside for a brief time to gain perspective and change your environment (from the kitchen). If you want to stop smoking, you could snap your fingers or clap every time you feel the urge for a cigarette. A trigger helps condition a new pattern more consistently.

7. Write it down — Don’t leave commitments to float around in your brain. Write them down. You could also use the ObesityHelp Goal System to write down your commitment for your new habit. By committing your new habit outside of your head, it does two things. One, you give yourself clarity by defining in specific terms what your change means. Two, it keeps you committed since it is easy to dismiss a thought, but harder to dismiss a commitment written down that is in front of you.

8. Leverage and accountability — Give a trusted friend $50 or $100 with the understanding that they will return it to you ONLY when you’ve completed 30 days without exception or fail. Make it a public commitment to everyone you know that you’re going to stick with it. Offer yourself a reward if you make it a month. Anything to give yourself that extra push with leverage and accountability. Post about your 30-day habit process on your favorite ObesityHelp message board or within your online support group.

9. Try the new habit on for size — You can’t know whether a new, different habit will work until you try it. Mix around with new exchanging habits until you find ones that suit you. Don’t try to follow habits because you should, but because you’ve tested them and found the one that works for you and your life.

Habits are merely a pattern of behavior that you’ve developed. Habits can be broken and habits can be created. There is no better way to break a bad habit than knowing you have the confidence to do so. Getting back on track, staying on track or any other behavior is merely a set of habits. Who is stronger — you or your habits? What is stronger — your commitment to your healthy lifestyle or that trigger food? Keep asking yourself these questions to keep motivated and fulfill the promise to yourself for your new habits.

cathy wilson


Cathy Wilson, PCC, BCC, had RNY surgery in 2001 and lost 147 pounds. Cathy is a regular contributor to the OH Blog and authored the "Mind Matters" column in ObesityHelp Magazine. Cathy is a licensed pilot and loves flying. She is a member of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) and the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC).

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