Generally speaking nothing we ever do to ourselves is done with a negative intent although it may result in a negative habit or behaviour pattern being developed the original intent behind it was probably positive. It was believed that you could develop any healthy habit within 28 days. Recent research disputes that and suggests that it actually takes us 66 days .I am inclined to believe that the longer number of days is what is required for us to develop a positive new learning after a negative habit has developed. By giving ourselves this extra time it should ensure that the change is permanent and established making it therefore less likely to dissolve back in to previous “old” ways.
So, if all habits start with positive intent, as I believe, how do they turn in to unwanted negative behaviours or habits? To me understanding the value or need behind the action helps us to make a change to a positive choice. If we consider someone who overeats and struggles with trying to eat sensibly but fails time and time again, the chances are that originally they overate to meet a value or a need that wasn’t being met. Perhaps it was to be sociable, to be able eat out with friends, to feel happy, to feel loved, comfort, the list could go on. Most people do not set out to become overweight .That is the end result of a negative habit which would have started out with a positive intent. It is the same with nearly all bad habits. Why do people smoke? Does it meet a social need or value such as it calms them or supresses’ appetite and so prevents overeating. Is it a de-stressor? When people drink too much, why? Before it became an addiction what did it bring to them? Was it that it helped them to feel calm or helped them to relax? Were they able to socialise more because they believed it gave them confidence? Whatever the reason the original intent would have been positive. With smoking and alcohol there is also the addiction aspect that kicks quickly in after the original intent and often the initial benefit gets lost in the physical need to have the nicotine or alcohol boost.
So in order to be able to change negative behaviour back to positive we must first establish the basic positive need it was designed to meet and then find a way of getting this need met in a healthier more positive way. Some people believe that once you decide to let go a negative habit you can just let it go. It is as simple as that. My experience with this is that certainly deciding to let it go is the first step to success but dogged determination and repeatedly reminding yourself what positive things you now want to bring in to your life ,is the key to permanently establishing a new better behaviour.
If we take smoking as an example, by first establishing what it is, apart from nicotine, that smoking gives you, you can determine what need or value you will still have to meet, to successfully give up the habit. Nicotine patches will probably not be enough on their own. It requires a change of attitude and direction to be able to maintain new behaviour. If we fail to decide how to replace the original positive intent, then the first time stress or whatever need it was arises, the first thing that will happen is that the person will reach for the old familiar way of getting it quickly. This is in my opinion the reason why people who have managed to stop smoking for a prolonged period can suddenly start again. They haven’t recognised what it has truly initially provided them with when they it gave up. So, if smoking was a way to help someone relax, finding another way of feeling relaxed and establishing this new way as part of a daily routine, alongside the nicotine patch or whatever it is you choose to help, will make it easier to permanently change this habit. This same principal, establishing the basic need being met can be used to help you get rid of any behaviour or habit that you now wish to change.
That is the first part and the second is attitude. How much do you really want to let go this habit? What benefits will it bring you to change? By writing the answer down to both of these questions it will enable your conscious mind to have something crystal clear to look at and to help motivate you during times of temptation.
Then as a visual aid take it one step further and write down what it is that you initially wanted to achieve by the habit on a stick it notes, and put these notes in places around you such as your wallet/purse, the visor in your car, the mirror in the bathroom, anywhere in fact that you will see them and remind yourself of what it is you want. These notes help to act as an emotional boost and can increase motivation. A daily note to self, written in a diary or on your phone to tell yourself how much better you feel and how proud you are of getting one more day closer to your goal of better health or whatever your goal is ,will also keep you motivated.
To help me stick to a healthy eating plan, I have a message that greets me on my phone in the morning. It directs me to do energetic things, such as going a walk and to eat healthy energy foods, as I previously had habitually ate sugary snacks as a way of providing myself with energy. This message is designed to encourage me to switch on my brain and to help me look for the ways to meet my daily goals. This in turn prevents me from snack eating and nibbling. Try it you may find it as helpful as I do.
Finally alongside the four previous steps we must recognise that we need time to fully develop new ways of thinking, new routines and new habits, we should not be too critical of our daily efforts .If we set each day up to have small, easily achievable steps forward we are much more likely to succeed and by keeping notes of what we want to achieve and by giving ourselves time to achieve we will easily learn healthier habits and have sustainable success.