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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Building Healthy Habits That Last

A habit refers to a behavioral choice we make that becomes regular and consistent. 
At times we may be conscious of our habits and other times completely unaware of what we are doing. Habits can be both good and bad, however, it is the bad habits that cause problems and dysfunction in our lives that need to be replaced. 

Unfortunately, bad habits can be very hard to break. Examples of unhealthy bad habits can include things we traditionally think of like smoking, nail-biting, interrupting, or eating excessive junk food, as well as other bad habits that escape our awareness. This might look like responding to anger with aggression, deflecting when offered feedback, shutting down before a conversation is finished, or otherwise using alcohol or other drugs to cope, celebrate, or commiserate.

The bad news is that the list of bad habits is practically endless. The good news is that we can replace bad habits with good ones and even create additional new and healthy habits that have a lasting positive effect on our lives. Holistic recovery from addiction is built upon not only replacing negative addictive behaviors but also creating positive alternatives, building healthy habits that last. 

Choices! Choices! Choices!

Think about a time when you made a positive healthy choice for yourself. It doesn’t matter how small or big the choice was, just try to remember how you felt. Most likely that positive choice felt good. So good in fact that you promised yourself you would “stick to this new plan,” until it developed into a lasting healthy habit.

As time went on, however, you found it harder and harder to commit to the choice. The new choice failed to develop into a routine habit, and you found yourself right back where you started. Similarly, for those attempting to overcome negative habits such as addiction, they will find that there is a similar cycle of relapse/lapse before true behavioral change takes root. 

Giving up bad habits and starting new and healthier habits can be incredibly difficult. But there are definitely ways you can increase your ability to start and sustain healthy choices that turn into healthy long-term habits. 

Frustrating? Yes! Impossible? No! 

Dr. Susan Czaikowski, a noted behavioral change expert from the National Institute of Health states that “It can be frustrating to experience setbacks, especially when you are trying to make healthy lifestyle changes.” The encouraging news however is that “research shows that change is possible and there are proven strategies that increase the chances of success.”

By working through the frustration and committing to developing new and healthy habits, your lifestyle and the way you feel will drastically improve. Just a few examples include improved health, improved finances, improved mood, and increased self-worth. 

Strategies for developing lasting healthy habits

  • Conscious Awareness
Start by identifying and gaining awareness of your current habits both good and bad. Write down or make a mental note of all the behaviors you do daily that are routine, regular, and done without prompting. Make a list of the habits you would like to keep and a list of those you want to replace with healthier more positive choices. 

Perhaps you reach for junk food when you experience stress, or you interrupt people when they are speaking to you or light up a cigarette to settle your mood. Whatever your habits are, the first step in breaking them or replacing them with new ones is to gain conscious awareness of what you do routinely. 
  • Develop a Plan
Identify some goals. For example; every day at lunchtime I will walk 30 minutes to replace sitting; when I feel sad or anxious I will find someone I trust to talk to or take the dog for a walk to replace reaching for and eating junk food; I will keep fruits and vegetables in the house to replace cookies and chips, etc. 

You may even consider sharing this plan with a trusted friend. Peer support has been proven to keep us motivated and committed to our goals.
  • Remember that Small Steps make a huge difference
Changes can be fast or slow. There is no need to rush or set yourself up to be discouraged by entertaining unrealistic expectations. 

Even small changes are still changes. One less bag of potato chips a day equals seven fewer bags of chips per week! Maybe you didn’t walk a full 30 minutes and instead walked 15 minutes. Although a 15-minute walk is short of your identified goal, it is still 15 minutes more than before. 

The important thing to remember is to put effort into making some change every single day.
  • Think Ahead
Be proactive and think ahead! For example, shop for healthy foods early in the week and have the house pre-stocked with healthy habit-forming snacking. Early in the morning plan your time to walk so you know ahead of time that walking has been incorporated into your schedule for that day.
By planning ahead, you are setting yourself up for the best chance to regularly engage in new healthy habit-forming behaviors. 

Think about the future consequences of your new habits. Healthier weight, reduced risk for diabetes, healthier heart and lungs, and improved social interactions and improved mood. 
  • Acknowledge and Reward your efforts
Research tells us that when behaviors are followed by positive reinforcement, we are more likely to repeat those behaviors. 
Be sure to reward yourself for engaging in any healthy and positive changes you have done. Size and quantity don’t matter. If you make a positive change, give yourself a positive reward. 

Rewards can include watching a favorite movie, giving yourself a pedicure, or counting your efforts as a step towards a larger purchase or goal. 
  • Persevere
Don’t give up! Some habits can be insidious and very hard to break, while others are more easily replaced with healthier behavior choices.  The important thing to remember is that every day some type of change and new behavior must be implemented. 

Holistic Recovery at The Haven

Stick with these listed strategies and never stop pursuing healthy changes across all areas of your life. Keep reminding yourself of how sticking with these new habits can change your life! Even small changes can have large impacts on improving your lifestyle and keep your recovery practice strong.

Give us a call today to learn more about the holistic recovery environment we offer at The Haven that will help you overcome the particularly destructive habit of addiction, and renew to your best today!