Fixing bad habits the correct way for all ages. A healthier approach to change.
We all know that we should eat more vegetables and fruit, exercise more, spend less time in front of the TV and more time lovingly interacting with those close to us. Almost all of us knows these things. When I lecture to people, I have never finished a lecture without saying, “Now, have I told you anything you didn’t already know?” People will chuckle, because I just spent the last 45 minutes going over stuff that they already knew. Why, then, do we still have a massive problem with health if we know this stuff?
Part of it is because of implementation. The problem lies in that space between knowing what you should do and getting yourself to do what you know. That’s a significant canyon to cross; I’m not trivializing this problem. In that spirit, let me offer some suggestions to make that effort easier and more effective.
1. You can’t erase bad habits; you must replace bad habits. In a great book, The Power Of Habit, Charles Duhig illustrates this truth. The brain seems to need to fill the void, and it is much more difficult to quit a habit than to replace the undesirable habit with a better habit.
EXAMPLE: You’d like to quit drinking soda pop. Instead of saying you won’t drink soda pop, say you will drink something healthy instead. I had one friend who replaced Dr. Pepper with sparkling mineral water instead with great success. He still got the stimulation from carbonation, and still wet his palate, but saved himself the deleterious effects of a boat load of empty calories.
2. Start small. Meet my arch nemesis. I’m one who has a three page goal list every January (in fact, this list is open in another tab right now). The following January arrives, I look at my list and see that I haven’t climbed Mount Everest or bought a Porsche yet, and I’m tiny, little, itty-bitty bit depressed. Studies show that many small changes are usually more effective than that massive change you’ve been putting off day after day.
EXAMPLE: You just finished watching the movie Pre and can’t help but be inspired. You now want to run a marathon. You have never ran in your life. The first day out you run 5 miles. Eye of the tiger. Take that fat. You are a champion. Next day, you’re in the doctor’s office with shin splints. Next month, you can’t run at all. Sound familiar? Really, you do that too? Cool. I’m not the only one. Morale of the story: This time, start with walking.
3. Always add positives before subtracting negatives. The brain is wired to move away from pain towards pleasure. It will avoid negative stuff with all its might. (Unless its some juicy gossip, it eats up other peoples’ negative stuff like crazy.)
EXAMPLE: When you diet, don’t take away all the things you love. NO MORE CHOCOLATE! EVAAA’! No, instead, start adding good things. Add your favorite fresh fiber (fruit or vegetable) every time you eat. Make it a rule that you can eat the chocolate as long as you eat your carrots. As time goes by, the negative becomes less appealing and you find yourself naturally moving towards the healthier foods than working hard to avoid the unhealthy foods.
These three tips are worth their weight in gold, pick one thing you want to change and apply these three rules as you make the change. Make 2014 that year!