Rebecca Wilson practices cognitive & mindfulness-based therapies and researches health psychology and behavior change. Her website, habitspark.com, focuses on how to use positive habits to create healthy and happy lifestyles.
First of all, what exactly is a habit? A habit is a behavior that you do so regularly that it becomes almost automatic. Although many habits are good, like brushing your teeth, some habits are devastating to a healthy lifestyle and weight control. Here are the 3 worst habits and how to break them:
Bad Habit #1: Eating mindlessly. Eating on the run, eating without paying attention to your hunger signals, and eating to escape painful feelings.
Break It: Replace eating mindlessly with eating mindfully. Eat at a dining table and make sure you aren’t doing anything else while you are eating. Before you start eating, notice your hunger level. As you eat, pay attention to your senses: the taste of the food, the feel of it, the smell, and how it looks.
Regularly check in with your hunger levels. Stop eating when you are no longer hungry, but before you are full. If you eat emotionally, notice what leads up to it and plan other ways of coping, such as talking to a friend or going for a walk. Breathe and let yourself experience the negative feelings and realize that you’re okay.
Bad Habit #2: Laying, sitting, & vegging out. Only 30% of us exercise regularly. Work is increasingly sedentary, and favorite past times now include watching TV and using the computer. This adds up to a ton of inactive time every day. Physical activity is critical for many reasons: it protects against depression, relieves stress, increases focus, improves sleep, and increases energy.
Break It: Set a small goal for yourself such as 15 minutes of movement every morning. This will create momentum, and you can do more when you feel like it. Brainstorm ways to put more activity into your day. Wear a pedometer, take the stairs, park further, commute by bike, go on a walk with friends at lunch, play ball with your kids, take up active hobbies like gardening, dancing, adult sports leagues, etc. When you think that you don’t have the energy, remind yourself that having low energy is actually a sign that you need to be more active. Make it a habit to always get started no matter how you feel.
Bad Habit #3: Sacrificing sleep. Sleep is a crucial foundation for dealing effectively with life. We average 6 hours a night, when most adults need 8-9 hours. Lack of sleep can contribute to stress, increased appetite, cognitive impairment, and lack of energy.
Break It: Make a sleep plan. Set a wake time that gives you enough time on your earliest day. Set your bedtime 8.5 hours earlier. Also set a nighttime routine 2 hours before bedtime. The most important habit is to get up every day at your wake time no matter what. Every time you sleep in it’s like giving yourself jet lag. When your nighttime routine time comes around, start following patterns that help your body wind down. Turn off the computer (late night computer use contributes hugely to insomnia), brush your teeth, get things ready for the next day, relax with reading, prayer, stretching, bathing, etc. When you are drowsy or it’s your bedtime, turn out the lights and go to sleep.
Creating healthy habits is the best way to break unhealthy habits. Work on one area at a time, and you’ll experience an amazing transformation in your life.
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June 12th, 2011