How to End Bad Habits During Times of Stress

The odds are high that you have developed some negative habits as a way to cope with daily stress and disappointments. Some women drown their sorrows in food or alcohol, others numb themselves in front of the television or complain endlessly to friends without making any effort to change their situation. Willpower alone is not […]

The odds are high that you have developed some negative habits as a way to cope with daily stress and disappointments. Some women drown their sorrows in food or alcohol, others numb themselves in front of the television or complain endlessly to friends without making any effort to change their situation. Willpower alone is not enough to change deeply entrenched habits. Create a plan to achieve a realistic goal and focus on the progress that you make. It takes time, but you can do it if you are motivated.

Learn how to change habits effectively so that you do not get overwhelmed and discouraged. Seeing success in self-control in small things will help to restore your confidence so that you can take back your power in the big ones.

You can do it! Here are some tips:

  1. Take on one good habit or tackle one bad habit at a time. Focus on only establishing or changing that one habit; and be consistent. It normally takes an average of sixty-six days to perform a task automatically, according to a 2009 study in European Journal of Social Psychology.1Many sources say that it takes thirty days to change a habit, but I don’t believe that a habit has changed until it becomes automatic. Don’t try to change another bad habit until you know for sure that you have permanently changed the first one.
  • Repeat new behavior until it becomes automatic behavior. I initially put sticky notes on the medicine cabinet in my bathroom to remind myself to take my vitamins and supplements, repeat affirmations, and meditate every day. Now I don’t need to even think about doing them anymore. They are among the first things I do in the morning. You will be more successful if you stick to a daily routine.
  • Be realistic about what you can do and focus on your progress. Do not set yourself up for failure. Unrealistic expectations will only make you feel worse. Start with a small goal that you are certain to meet, and then increase it once you think you can do more. The top cause of procrastination is self-criticism so do not expect yourself to be perfect. Instead, set realistic goals.
  • Plan for how to reach your goal. Write your goal down and refer to it often. Plan to include your new good habit in your busy schedule. Block out time on your calendar for the days each week that you want to perform your new habit until it becomes second nature to you. Set electronic phone alerts for it. If you want to add meditation to your daily routine, for example, practice it at the same time every day when you are least likely to be disturbed. Create a schedule for exercise and make sure that you have a change of clothes packed in the morning before you leave for work if you are going to the gym straight from work. Plan and prepare for success.
  • Figure out what your triggers or obstacles are and replace them with other activities. If you get a strong urge to eat fattening foods, eat some grapes or a handful of almonds instead, breathe deeply, have a drink of water, call a friend, pray, or go for a walk. Don’t buy food you want to avoid in the first place. It doesn’t belong in your house.
  • Get a support system if you need one. Call a friend or hire a coach. There also are support systems online that you can lean on, such as Overeaters Anonymous, private Facebook groups and Weight Watchers.
  • Stay positive. If you mess up, you are only human, so just try again. Be kind to yourself and don’t give up. Learn to forgive yourself immediately. Treat yourself with compassion. Be your own best friend.
  • Keep your goals secret from people who are not safe. If you live with someone who is jealous of you or an abuser, he may try to sabotage you if you let him know what you are doing. Avoid sharing your plans to change any habit. Just do it. If he offers you dessert when you are trying to lose weight, say that you are not hungry and thank him for the offer. If you resist and express anger or disappointment that he is tempting or sabotaging you, his behavior will continue and may even escalate. It will be more peaceful if you avoid unnecessary arguments.
  • Focus only on what is within your control. Take pride in your efforts and do not focus on the results. Let go of what is not in your control. It may mean that your goal takes longer to reach than you thought it would, but if you are trying and doing everything that you can, that is all that you can ask of yourself.
  1. Reward yourself for making this change, just not with food. Decide before you tackle the habit what your reward is going to be. Little rewards, like a hot soak in the tub with a new magazine or a pedicure at a day spa can boost your self-esteem. And they work.

Try to eat healthy foods, get enough rest, exercise, and spend time outdoors every day if you can. You can’t take care of anybody else if you are depleted. Don’t let your partner make you feel guilty for taking care of yourself. Your body is a gift from God, and it is your responsibility to take care of it.

1. Phillippa Lally, Corneila H.M. van Jaarsveld, Henry W.W. Potts, and Jane Wardle.“How Are Habits Formed: Modeling Habit Formation in the Real World,” European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 40, no. 6 (October 2010), pp. 998–1009.

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