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Maintaining optimal health can seem daunting, but when you examine closely the lifestyles of some of the world’s healthiest people, it becomes evident that small daily rituals can make a very big difference. If you have the daily ritual of exercising vs. the daily ritual of binge eating while watching television, the trajectory of your wellness over your lifespan will be drastically different. Because habits can be formed unconsciously, it is important every now and then to examine the habits you engage in, and actively change any unhealthy habits that are derailing your health. Below are some steps that you can engage in to help you break old habits that no longer serve you.

Recognize that your actions are not supporting your overall health goals.

The first step in making a change is to have the pain of where you are, surpass the pain or fear of making a change. If you are overweight, an addict, and can’t get up a flight of stairs without severe pain that feels like a heart attack, like the endurance athlete Rich Roll once was, you too have the opportunity for an epiphany. Your health challenge may not be as severe as his was, but even with smaller things it’s important to take notice. Maybe you no longer exercise, and although you have maintained your weight, your energy is much lower during the day. Or perhaps you have stopped meditating, and this has several encumbered how you deal with stress at work and at home. Whatever it is, hone in on it until you can make the firm decision to set a new habit.

Deal with the emotions that are keeping you tied to the behavior.

Dr. Joe Dispenza is his book “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself,” discusses how we can get addicted to emotions. Without knowing it, us humans are frequently switching into fight or flight mode when there is no real life threatening danger present. Whether it be a difficult boss, or angry commuter cutting us off in traffic, we tend to memorize emotional states and program them as default when a similar situation arises even if there is no real threat.  Our emotions can also be scary to us, and in order to avoid feeling them we may use food, alcohol or other substances to avoid moving through the emotion. It’s important to become aware of what emotions are tied to your unhealthy habits and find healthy outlets for them to address the root cause.

Practice Mindfulness to change your mindset.

At this point, once you’ve recognized that your actions are out of alignment, and you are also addressing the emotions that keep you tied to the unwanted behavior, it is time to change your mind. Changing our mind is literally easier said than done, but thankfully, mindfulness techniques, especially meditation have been scientifically proven to build new neural pathways, reduce reactivity, stress, and help us engage with our environments in a new way. It only takes around 2-3 weeks of meditation to begin to see changes.

Find Healthy Substitutions.

Some people believe in restriction to change habits, but that can backfire easily. Most of us when restricted can yo-yo back and go crazy on the exact behavior we said we would stop. Instead of working against your cravings or behavior, work with it by finding healthy substitutions. If you are trying to give up fast food, perhaps you start by making whole food versions of some of your favorite junk food and begin to train your palette to adjust to less refined sugar and salt. If you are working with a behavioral change sometimes substitutions aren’t relevant or are not enough. For instance giving up drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes can be very challenging. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help or join a support group. When struggling with addiction, knowing that you are not alone and having accountability are both key to forming new habits and completing recovery.

Implement a plan of new action for a minimum of 21 Days.

There is much debate about how long it takes to form a habit. Some say a minimum of 21 days, some say longer or shorter. At the end of the day you are going to need to give yourself at least a few weeks of repetitive action to adjust and form the new habit. You will know that the new habit is formed after you spend a consistent period following through and you are presented with the old option – food, behavior, etc. and the desire to indulge is gone. When you reach this stage, it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate yourself for the progress you’ve made.

 

References:

Dispenza, J., & Amen, D. G. (2015). Breaking the habit of being yourself: How to lose your mind and create a new one. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.  

 
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