Identify Bad Habits And Replace Them With Good Ones

2014-04-08 16.24.10This post is part of a series that makes up my Simple Guide To Health which is part of a broader collection of posts on Living Well.

Summary: Replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones.  Once established habits require a lot less willpower to sustain

Good habits are central to living well.  In my own life I’ve found that it’s incredibly easy to slip into bad or lazy habits, they are usually effortless, seductive and suck away the enjoyment of life one day at a time.  Although the human brain loves novelty it seems to me that it likes routine better, and once you’ve carved the deep ruts of routine in your brain it’s very hard to get out of them.

Here are a few examples from my own life of how I’ve been surprised by my own routines.:

  • I love walking, especially in wild places, but a few years ago I got out of the routine of driving to a place to walk.  Scheduling the time, organising the kids, driving all seemed too much effort.  This went on for years until finally I worked up the enthusiasm to make the one hour drive to Windermere Lake, when I got out of the car, and breathed in the view of the lake, I was stunned that I could have stayed away for so long.  The majestic beauty took my breath away.  Even after this experience though I still need to keep reminding myself that such incredible experiences are only a little effort away.
  • I love swimming and I’m a member of a heath club that has a fantastic pool, Jacuzzi  and Sauna, but weeks can go by between visits.  The effort to pack my gear, walk the 5 minutes to the pool, risk that it’s busy all conspire to keep me in front of my laptop rather than under the water. Every time I make the effort though I’m amazed just how wonderful it feels and struggle to understand what’s kept me away.
  • Finally my wife and I used to cycle to work every day, we both loved it, but maybe 20 years ago she stopped cycling (kids) and I carried on.  A couple of months ago after years of encouragement she got on a bike again and the look on her face after 6 miles was so wonderful.  She loved it, couldn’t believe she had left it so long, but 12 months on and she’s not been on a bike again, even though she keeps planning to start cycling to work again.

So I’ve been mulling over the characteristics of the bad habits that make them so seductive:

  • They take very little effort
  • They provide instant reward
  • They don’t involve much, if any risk

Lets take a quick look at these:

  • Effort, examples of bad habits that don’t require much effort are watching TV, eating unhealthy food, sleeping too much whereas good habits like reading, hiking, going swimming all require significant effort to make them happen but much greater rewards
  • Reward, examples of bad habits that deliver and instant reward include eating sweets, watching another episode of 24 whereas good habits require you to wait for the reward (sometimes the reward comes weeks or months later) making a home made meal, reading a book, climbing a hill, cycling to work
  • Risk, examples of bad habits that are low risk include watching soap operas, driving to work, going to the same place to eat every week whereas good habits often require you to take some risk, if you cycle to work it might rain,  if you go swimming it might be too busy to swim lengths, if you make a new recipe you might not like it

You need to discipline yourself and use a few key strategies if you want to change your habits:

  • Only change one habit at a time, you need to marshal your limited will power and build on success
  • Write a list of the habits you want to establish and remind yourself of them, regular reminders reinforce your willpower
  • Swap a bad habit for a good one, for example swap watching TV after dinner for reading a book or going for a walk
  • Keep track of your progress
  • If you are struggling to make a change then take the smallest step possible

This picture is of Astley Hall in Astley Park.  It’s only 2 minutes drive from my office at work, so it makes it easy to establish the habit of walking in the late afternoon after sitting for a few hours.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

2 Responses

  1. Stu Downes says:

    Astley Hall …. and where Seana and I married 🙂

    On the habits the skill is tailoring that to your role and lifestyle …. its a constant process in my eyes

  1. April 11, 2014

    […] Identify Bad Habits And Replace Them With Good Ones, change takes effort, forming good habits reduces the effort required to sustain change […]

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