Breaking Bad Habits

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Everyone has some bad habits that we consider bad and would like to get rid of. Who doesn’t like that? This recent article in Self magazine talks about breaking bad habits. It appears that the time frame for breaking a habit varies from person to person. To put simply “it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days—and 66 days on average—to change your behavior so that you don’t automatically repeat unhealthy patterns”.

One of the greatest challenges to lifestyle medicine is patient adherence. Lifestyle diseases inherently require lifetime prevention and treatment. Therefore, adherence to lifestyle medicine recommendations must also be long-term. Long-term adherence implies that a routine incorporating health recommendations has been developed. Instead of focusing on the immediacy of adherence in lifestyle changes, health care providers could consider helping patients develop a routine to slowly incorporate those changes. This perspective may enable greater long-term adherence to lifestyle change recommendations.

– Katherine R. Arlinghaus in The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine

Karen Ingersoll, PhD, clinical psychologist with UVA Health and professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, recommends the following advice to break the bad habits:

  • Step one: Picture future yourself. “First, think about the good habits you want to have and how you want to feel once you’ve adopted them. Spending a little time thinking (or writing) about the person you want to be can motivate you to act in ways that align with this “future self”—and avoid behaviors that’ll hold you back, research suggests.
  • Step two: Identify the actions you need to take to become that person you’ve imagined. “What steps do I need to take in my daily routine to become the person I’m picturing? Rather than focusing on your ultimate goal—say, going to bed earlier—zero in on the small behavioral changes you need to make in order to replace the bad habit. Eventually, if you’re consistent with your new behavior, you’ll no longer automatically do That Thing you don’t want to be doing.
  • Step 3: Monitor your progress. “Self-monitoring is an incredibly effective tool for forming new habits and changing behaviors. Keeping a close eye on your actions can help you become more self-aware and motivate you to stay the course.
  • Remember to aim for progress, not perfection. “Finally, know that breaking bad habits doesn’t always follow a straight path. If you’re trying to stop picking your split ends, you may go a week without doing it and feel proud of yourself, only to catch yourself peeling a piece of your hair apart a week later.