"To change habits, you have to really be intentional and understand what motivates your behavior,” says Jul Bruns, a workplace services consultant at Employee & Family Resources in Des Moines.
Many people are encouraged to develop habits that lead to a better, more comfortable life. But for others, change is driven by pain or poor health. If high cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease, for example, you might approach dietary changes differently than someone trying to lose 10 pounds.
As you examine your motivations, also consider:
It may seem insignificant, explains Bruns, but finding time for new habits is one of the most important tools for success. Think critically about your schedule and prioritize what is important:
“We have so many little choices that require a lot of energy during the day. But when we have to make decisions, we get bogged down and just do what’s easiest. We grab the fast food meal because it’s quick, for example,” says Bruns.
In his 2012 best seller, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” Charles Duhigg outlines straightforward steps for identifying and changing even our most ingrained habits. Some behaviors are harder to alter than others, and all require real commitment to change. Still, researchers say, almost any habit can be modified with time and effort.
STEP 1. The cue. The cue is what triggers a behavior. It might be the tension you feel in your hands before you crack your knuckles, or the mid-morning distraction you feel right before you get up and grab a piece of candy from that basket on the front desk. Noticing the cravings that precede an action can help you reshape that action.
STEP 2. The reward. The reward is what results from a particular behavior. Rewards can be positive or negative. The reward of cracking your knuckles might be stress relief. After grabbing that piece of candy, your reward might be a quick energy boost. Or, you might just enjoy the social contact you have while walking to the front desk.
STEP 3. The routine. Once you’ve identified the cue and the reward of your habit, you can reprogram yourself by changing the routine. When you feel the cue to crack your knuckles, try briskly rubbing your hands together, instead. Rather than getting a piece of candy during that mid-morning slump, take five minutes to walk around the block or chat with a colleague.
Ideally, you’ll also choose healthy rewards. So, if your goal is to quit smoking, examine why you smoke. If the nicotine stimulation is the reward, try a lightly caffeinated cup of green tea or a nicotine patch. If smoking breaks up your day or provides a social reward, consider taking a coffee break with friends, instead.
Click here for a PDF chart "How to change a habit," from Charles Duhigg's book, "The Power of Habit."
Find additional links to resources used in "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" by Charless Duhigg.