How to change bad habits

Habits are strong forces.

Everyone who has bad habits knows that. And don’t we all have bad habits?

But maybe, habits seem to be strong forces because we don’t know how they work, and instead spend our time fighting these habits. Wasting our energy, trying to change them, because we don’t understand how we got them or how to change them. I’m no expert on the subject, but I have found new good habits that are easy to stick too. And because of this, I have started to think about them. Among other things, I’m reading the blog Zenhabits.net, where Leo Babauta is writing about creating new, good habits. Check it out if you want some inspiration.?I believe that if we can understand how we got here, how habits work, we can use these same strategies to create good habits instead of remaining stuck in the bad ones.

I believe habits is not things of the past, something we got stuck with, but something we unconsciously reinforce right now, in the tiny decisions being made all the time without our conscious awareness. If we want to change something, we need to do it in equally small steps. One change at a time, one now at a time, letting it take time. You don’t go from nothing to running a marathon tomorrow. You start today, by going for a short run. You might have a long term goal of running a marathon in a year, but the important thing is wether you go for that run now or not. If you never do that run now, if you never begin, you will always remain where you are.
Usually there is an effort involved in the beginning, but as we get over the first horizon, it becomes a habit that work in the same direction as we do, and after a while, it is equally inconceivable to stop running as it was to start a couple of months back.?
That is how we got stuck in bad habits in the first place, and that is how we must get out of them.

If we want to start exercising, it is stupid to start doing it five times a week at top speed, usually all that leads to us quitting, giving it up altogether. The reason most people stop dieting is that it is too much of a difference, usually involving things we don’t even like. To stick to it we must rely solely on our will power, but as we go on we start hating what we do and no one has the will power to keep up for very long, something that we hate.
We fail. And having failed, we will sit there feeling sorry for ourselves, cursing our lack of character and discipline, thinking there is a difference between us and others who do succeed.

But it is not our character or lack of discipline that make us fail. Our failure is in our ignorance, not understanding habits, thinking we can force ourselves into something we dislike.
Our failure is built in from the beginning. We are doomed. We could just as well not have started it in the first place and saved our energy.

I have three principles that I stick to when trying to change my habits. If one of them is not there, I know it won’t work. These are:

Long-term

If I intend to change a habit, I only do it if I am willing to keep doing it for the rest of my life, otherwise, there is no use trying. If I am not willing to pay $150/mo for a personal trainer or punish myself in the gym, then I’ll just have to find some other kind of exercise. If I’m not willing to eat fruit every day for the rest of my life, I’ll have to find some other type of food that I’m willing to stick to. I do not believe in special diets that you stick to for a few months to loose weight if you are not intending to keep that same diet. You might loose weight, but it won’t teach you good habits, and when you stop, you go back to your old habits and start gaining weight again.

Small changes

Start small. Don’t change your entire diet, but just add some healthy things you enjoy eating. Start by exercising once a week , or walking for fifteen minutes a day, then add a little bit as you go. When you start something, there is always resistance. Running for ten kilometers, five times a week, will meet a lot of resistance if you have never run before, your mind will tell you to stop, that you have better things to do, not enough time etc., and soon you’ll start hating it and stop.
I started doing Yoga once a week in December and after about two months, suddenly all my resistance just dropped away and I couldn’t wait to do it again. I couldn’t do more than four times a week though, because after three days in a row, I had a hard time getting out of bed, because of sore muscles.?
But in about two months time, I no longer needed to motivate myself, or use will-power. I’m not doing Yoga anymore, now it is my Yoga doing me.

Focus on the positive

If we focus on loosing weight, it is something negative, it means a sacrifice, giving up the something we enjoy (eating). Sacrifice will create a lot of resistance, because no one wants to give up something they enjoy. When people go on a diet and they can’t eat this or that, it creates a huge internal battle. You have to force yourself to abstain from something that you desire. It is a battle of wills that you will loose.
If we instead focus on eating healthy food that we enjoy, or do things we enjoy doing that does not involve eating, we focus on the positive, the benefits of change. Instead of a sacrifice, we just do something we enjoy doing. It will probably still be an effort in the beginning, until we have passed the first obstacles, but the resistance will be easier to handle.
I found out that I usually got cravings for food or sugar when I was bored or felt lonely. Today, I’m neither bored nor lonely and my bad eating habits seem to have disappeared like a miracle. I have no rules that I’m not allowed to eat something, I’m not trying to abstain or go against my desires, things just seem to work on their own accord.

I’m not writing this because I’m an expert about changing habits, it is still very much an on-going process, but at the moment, how we seem to work regarding this fascinates me a lot. So I thought it could be interesting to share a few ideas I have around this.

Do you have any ideas yourself how to make changes? Write in the comments…