Unhealthy habits make our lives harder than they need to be. However, it’s also hard to change unhealthy habits. So how can you make the choice and cultivate motivation to change?
As earth dwellers, habits are a part and parcel of our existence. Habits are what make us who we are and help us understand more about our unique personality, strengths, and weaknesses.
Habits, like a lot of things in the world, can be both positive and negative in nature.
Some examples of positive habits could include brushing your teeth every day, reading for intellectual wellness, drinking water throughout the day, seeing friends regularly, practicing mindfulness before bed, or engaging in other forms of active relaxation.
Good habits are a dime a dozen–as are “bad” or unhealthy ones.
Unhealthy habits (which could be rephrased as unhelpful habits), are nothing to be ashamed of. But, they can make our lives (and sometimes others’ lives) so much harder. That’s a main motivator to change these habits, which can include:
- Obsessing over failure rather than engaging in constructive self-reflection
- Comparing yourself to others
- Being self-critical or overly self-deprecating
- Having high standards without making an allowance for failure
- Being guarded and pushing people away
- Ignoring your anger
These types of unhelpful habits can significantly reduce your emotional and mental well being and contribute to a sense of isolation and unhappiness.
Choosing to change unhealthy habits
Unhealthy habits can impact our physical, material, emotional and mental health. Changing them, therefore, can have major positive ripple effects.
Imagine how your life may look different once you change your unhealthy habits. Think of how others in your life will benefit. There’s reason to have hope and choose change.
Most unhealthy habits can be replaced with healthy habits, which can then:
- Give us something to look forward to
- Build our sense of self esteem
- Make us more in-touch with ourselves
- Give us a sense of community or productivity
These benefits are reason enough to swap unhelpful for helpful habits. However, changing your routines and coping mechanisms is no small feat.
Though choosing to change can feel intimidating, taxing, or even impossible, it’s important to remember that change doesn’t have to be revolutionary. You can choose to take small steps, and you don’t have to punish yourself in the process of changing.
How can I change unhealthy habits for my mental health?
1) Going “cold turkey”
If you decide to stop a habit altogether, immediately, it’s an admirable goal. But is there any way to hold yourself accountable using this approach?
An effective support system would help immensely if you decided to take this path. Having a family member or a friend act as an accountability monitor could really ensure that you held up your end of the bargain in terms of quitting a habit. Going all or nothing, cold turkey is an aspirational goal, but by no means the only way to change unhealthy habits.
2) Using positive reinforcement for healthy choices
A more effective way to hold yourself accountable is using positive reinforcement. This means rewarding yourself when you choose healthy habits over unhealthy ones.
Research shows that positive reinforcement sets us up for success by making us “want to do something” rather than feel like we “have to do something”. It is more about creating a desire for self-improvement rather than holding a metaphorical stick to our back.
Positive enforcement is the practice of giving pats on the back or appreciation to ourselves for small victories in changing our unhelpful habits. Examples of that would include rewarding yourself with a small piece of chocolate in return for a week’s healthy eating, or giving yourself permission to do something fun after achieving a habit-change goal.
With positive reinforcement, it’s all about recognizing that one small step at a time adds up to changing our unhelpful habits.
3) Practicing self compassion
Self compassion is acknowledging why you’re engaging in an unhealthy habit, and giving yourself some understanding of the impulse. Shame can make it harder to change your habits, so self compassion helps you accept that we are human. It is only natural for us to deal with certain unhelpful habits.
4) Affirming your goals and intentions to change
Try this set of affirmations as daily reminders to motivate yourself:
- “I am letting go of unhealthy habits that no longer aid or serve my purpose
- I take on every moment of every day with intention
- I am in control of what I attract & what I truly desire
- I am grounded with my authentic self”
At the end of the day, having positive habits and working on our unhealthy habits are both intrinsic to our mental health. We need to rise above our tendency to despair, grow weary and give up–because there is a better life on the other side of changing our habits.
Because deep-seated habits take time to change, we need to develop an attitude of perseverance and stay the course on the path to self-improvement. Then, and only then, can we soar above negativity, doubt and despair to a position of positive mental health.
Let’s soar again.