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How to create good habits and get rid of bad habits

Added 13 Dec 2019

Every single person has habits, be they helpful or unhelpful, and that’s okay. This is all part of the human experience and there is nothing wrong with that. The important thing is that we recognise how these habits impact our daily lives and whether changes are necessary. Are our habits positively or negatively impacting our health and well-being? How do these habits influence various aspects of our lives that we regard as important? Do we find certain habits to be holding us back from following through with goals or doing what we genuinely wish to? How do the outcomes of these habits make me feel? I find that thinking deeply about how habits link with and impact the bigger picture that is my life helpful in deciding what changes need to be made.
 
The foundation of habits

So, how are habits formed? In my experience, it starts with a choice of action. Should I go exercise (even if I don’t feel like it) or play video games? Should I consume this sugar-loaded food or drink or not? The list goes on. Then, the choice is followed up by performing the action. It’s easy for us to say that we are going to do something but whether we follow through is a different story.
If we repeat an action or behaviour over time, it will turn into a habit. The seemingly little choices we make can have long-term implications. Sometimes, we may not realise our automatic or unconscious habits until others inform us, and that's okay. After recognising our unhelpful habits, it can be helpful to devise a plan of how to   remove it.
 
Time and pacing

When I say a plan, I am referring to the actionable steps intended to be taken to change our habits. I think it's important to have both short- and long-term goals. For example, an initial short-term goal for a sedentary person who would like to get more active may be going to the gym once a week for the first two weeks. Then, they may go twice a week. From there, they can slowly work their way up until going to the gym is a part of their routine, like brushing their teeth. 
 
It's also important that we set realistic markers and goals for ourselves, taking into consideration our personal circumstances and limitations. This is because when we set goals that are too challenging (especially when we start out) and we fail to meet the expectations, we can feel discouraged and possibly want to give up, leaving us back at square one. If we set achievable and manageable small goals, we make much better progress and feel rewarded by our hard work. 
 
An analogy would be climbing a ladder, with the very top being the established desired habit and the first rung    is the first step taken. We cannot magically teleport from point A to point B nor can we establish a new habit overnight. The process will take time and that is 100% okay. We all have our own unique timelines - the speed in which we create changes in our lives does not determine whether it is valid or not. The only fair comparison is with ourselves, not others since we all have varying experiences and we are not another person. How much progress have we made compared to ourselves last year, month or week? This is the question we should ask    ourselves.
 
It’s also okay to backtrack and change our plan in response to certain hurdles experienced. For example, experiencing an injury or psychological distress, possibly limiting how much we can do on a specific day or week. A personal example would be when I was doing Taekwondo training and injured my finger. I could not practice hand techniques until the bruises healed, hence, had to alter my training plan to only use my legs. The experience required me to adapt accordingly to the circumstances at hand. As long as we are doing something to keep the momentum going and not quit - this is what matters in the long run.
 
Lapsing and Perseverance

We will likely face obstacles and challenges in breaking down old habits and building new ones. For example, lapsing and slipping back into our old habits. This is a common experience on the journey of changing habits and that's okay. In the process of establishing new habits, it's unrealistic to expect 100% perfection and not have times where we slip. While it is certainly useful to acknowledge our mistakes and times where we fall, it's also important to recognise our efforts, progress and how far we have come in climbing the ladder.
 
I find it helpful to tackle barriers experienced right at its core where possible. Some questions that may help us get back on track include:
  • Why am I breaking this habit?
  • Why am I building this new habit?
  • What have I found helpful in overcoming these barriers previously? What worked and what did not work?
  • What resources and support do I have in changing habits?
  • What have I achieved so far?
  • What strengths and qualities do I have that can help me overcome these barriers?
 
My personal experience

To finish off, I would like to share my personal experience and give an example. An unhelpful habit I have is overworking myself and failing to adequately take care of my physical and mental health. In both high school and university, my marks were prioritised over my health, which included exercise, self-care and sustaining a social balance (e.g., hanging out with friends). This led me to experience periods of downfall and feeling very sad and anxious.
It wasn’t until a few months ago that it clearly hit me that I cannot live my life this way anymore.   I started off by engaging in small, manageable acts of self-care such as doing some writing or go for a walk. Over time, regular exercise and sustaining social contact have started becoming part of my routine. While I do experience lapses, such as pushing myself harder than I should when I feel unwell, my balance of work and taking care of myself has improved. I have more energy, improved sleep quality and feel that I am living a fulfilling life.
 
Take away message: Keep going at your own pace and recognise that we are very capable of achieving the goals we set out. We can do it!
 
By Trang – ADAVIC Facebook Support Volunteer

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