We all have habits. Some habits are good for us and some habits may not particularly be good for our well-being, but we still do them. Most of our habits are automatic and we don’t often think about the impact that they may have on our well-being.
One of the habits that used to arise when I became stressed involved my eating habits falling apart. I am conscious of this now and am mindful of the amount of stress I have in my life.
Many years ago while going through an extremely stressful time and working ridiculous hours I wouldn’t eat. I used to substitute coffee for food. I was having five to six cups of coffee per day with three teaspoons of sugar in each coffee. That’s a lot of sugar. I made a choice to change this habit as my health was suffering. I decided that I was going to cut sugar out of my coffee completely and only drink one or two cups per day. This lasted about three days and I couldn’t do it. WHY?
By wanting to change this habit I went to the extremities of change. I liken it to a pendulum. It swings from side to side. It can swing to the far right and then the far left. Just like me wanting to change my habit with coffee and sugar. I went from one extreme to the other and found it unsustainable.
What I learnt with any habit was that the change needs to occur in manageable, sustainable steps over a period of time. This creates lasting change. What I did with coffee and sugar was cut down to four cups of coffee per day and only two teaspoons of sugar. I did this for several months and when I felt ready, I cut it down to three cups and one sugar. I did this for months. Eventually, about two years later, I was down to one or two cups per day and no sugar and no longer using it as food.
Like the pendulum, eventually, the extreme swings became slower, calmer and balanced as the new habit is created. Our new habit is manageable and sustainable.
Habits are driven by our thoughts, beliefs and stories. They take time to change, as these beliefs may surface as we start to make changes in our life. The gift we can give ourselves is to be gentle and take our time when changing and creating new habits. We may have had habits our whole life and they don’t just go away. Some take longer to change and that’s ok.
Questions to ask yourself about making changes to your habits
- Firstly, be aware of the habits you have
- Make a list of some habits you would like to change.
- Pick one habit to change at a time. Make it easy for yourself to focus on one at a time.
- What is it about this habit that requires you to make changes? It could be that it is affecting your mental, physical and emotional well-being.
- Do you really want to change this habit? Be honest with yourself.
- Start with small sustainable actionable steps. It could be being aware of the habit you fall into when a situation occurs, or a certain person is around or how you are feeling that triggers it.
- When you go to act on your habit, stop yourself and choose something different.
- Make one small change to your habit and keep doing it until it becomes your new normal.
- Eventually, over time it gets easier.
- Remember new habits take time to create. Give yourself the time and space to do this.