Habits and Four Lessons in Changing Them

by Cameron Butler Wooten, LMFT, LPC

“Our Character, basically, is a composite of our Habits”

-Stephen Covey

I have been thinking a lot about habits lately, specifically my own habits in various areas of my life: physically, spiritually, vocationally. My husband and I recently participated in a “21-day Sugar Detox” Program to create better eating habits, and I have also been reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey.

The dictionary defines a habit as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. According to Stephen Covey, habits are powerful factors in our lives because they daily express our character and produce our effectiveness or ineffectiveness. Through personal work on improving my own habits, I would like to share what Ive been learning about building new healthy habits.

  1. Changing Habits is a Hard Process! Habits are often unconscious patterns. According to The American Journal of Psychology, habits are hard to change because behavioral patterns that humans create become imprinted in neural pathways. It was originally thought that creating a new habit takes 21 days of repeatedly completing the new behavior. However, research now shows that on average, it takes approximately 66 days. Repeated Behavior is the key to changing habits.
  2. Start Small: People can get very discouraged because they set out to change too much too soon. Then, once discouraged, they give up on new habits. Starting out small allows people to have some quick success, which breeds the confidence to keep up the good work. For example, don’t commit to yoga everyday for an hour when you’ve never done yoga in your life. Start out committing to 10 minutes of light stretching every day or every other day, and build on this.
  3. Replace/Exchange unhealthy habits for healthier ones.  I had an unhealthy habit of drinking too much soda and caffeine. What helped me in beating this habit was to replace that serving of soda with flavored Sparkling Water. In doing this, we can trick ourselves into not feeling deprived.
  4. Enlist Support. Telling others about the bad habits you are trying to break provides accountability in one’s quest for healthier habits. If you are trying to decrease or eliminate soda from your diet and your loved one sees you drinking a large soda, they can gently say something (or in my husband’s case, something sarcastic) to you to keep you on tract with your quest for creating healthy habits.

Though it is difficult to break bad habits, it is also very possible to do so! These simple steps are a good start for setting yourself up for success. The reward of overcoming unhealthy habits is worth the work it takes to do so.

___

Cameron is a Licensed Professional Counselor & Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who enjoys working with individuals, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

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