New year, new you—and new resolutions to break those bad habits once and for all. Whether it's smoking, nail-biting, overindulging in sugary snacks, or even poor posture, behavioral coaches and psychologists say there is a basic framework to follow for anyone looking to kick their vices to the curb.
Sometimes, even the simplest habit can take an enormous effort to change.
"I had a client who stopped at Dunkin Donuts every morning, went inside and bought a donut and coffee," leadership coach Amie Devero tells Tatler Asia. "Everyday he told himself he would forgo the donut. But once he was inside, the sight and aroma would be overwhelming, and he would relent. "In order to alter that habit, we had to first figure out what the thought was as he drove to the shop. He recognized that he was always running late and so left home without breakfast. The other thing was that he always walked inside of the store.
"So, first he had to decide whether he was going to continue viewing himself as someone who eats junk and doesn't work out–or whether he was willing to look at himself in a different way. He chose to reframe his view of himself as someone who ate healthy foods and looked after his health," she says. "That formed the foundation to alter his behavior. Since he was committed to reducing his sugar intake, and he had figured out the structural issues, we crafted a plan.
"He would write down what he would have the next day for breakfast at bedtime. That way, he could wake up with a plan about what to eat. Then instead of running late, he would set the alarm a bit earlier. He would eat breakfast and then, as he drove to work, if he wanted a coffee, he would go to the drive through of a different shop," Devero says. "Each step in this process was designed to remove all of the triggers of the entrenched routine. No more hunger. No more visual cue to go into the Dunkin Donuts. No more aroma or sight of donuts. After doing the new routine for a few weeks, he was as used to it as he had been to the prior one. And he began to feel better and lose weight–all of which reinforced the new routine.
"The trick is to do the work of identifying the entire process that supports a habit," she says. "Then, choose a new behavior and design and plan the entire process around that new habit. It takes planning–and a shift in being. My client had to declare to himself that he was the kind of person who ate healthily. He wasn’t 'trying' to do that–that was who is was. And the combination of shifting how he thought of himself and then having a new routine and plan made the difference. Anyone can succeed, but they likely won’t without exploring their entire behavioral chain, and replacing it with one that is desirable to them–plus, reinventing how they think of themselves."
To learn more about proven techniques for breaking bad habits, Tatler spoke to leading psychologists, behavioral specialists, and leadership coaches to assemble this step-by-step guide.
1. Make a list of what you want
Make two lists: what you want and what you don't want. "Once you have your list of desired goals, write down why you want to achieve them, and what will happen if you don't change your bad habits," says Lynell Ross, resource director of Test Prep Insight. "Be real with yourself. Being complacent and lying to yourself and reasons why it's hard to change. Post this list where you will see it daily. You can break bad habits if you know how what you're doing is hurting you. Be specific."