There are many times we change what we are currently doing for something completely different without giving it much thought. But, every now and then, making a change is difficult and we can’t figure out why we try over-and-over and just can’t maneuver into a new way.
Examining our current habits will help us find ways to institute new habits. It is important to understand what causes us to do things in a certain way. There is usually some type of satisfaction or reward for doing each thing we do. So, one question to answer is, “What are we achieving by doing it (whatever “it” might be)? There are various components, including physical, psychological, and social reasons for why we do things. Let’s take eating fast food or processed food as an example.
From a physical standpoint, fast foods and highly processed foods have very high sugar and/or salt contents. In studies at Duke University and the University of Melbourne in Austrialia, it was found that addictive drugs stimulated the same areas of the brain that were associated with an appetite for salt. According to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes approximately 3,400 mg of sodium daily, while the recommended amount for ideal heart health is 1,500 mg.
Sugar has also been found to excite the same areas of the brain that narcotics, such as cocaine and heroin, stimulate. While eating sugar will not cause type 1 diabetes, excess sugar consumption can cause weight gain. Obesity increases the risk of diabetes. Once a person has diabetes, eating too much sugar can make symptoms worse, since diabetes makes it more difficult for the body to manage blood sugar.
Once we know why we currently do something, we can begin to look at our reasons for making a change, seeing the positives and negatives. One effective way to do this is with a chart. This one has been completed with an example from someone who would like to improve their nutrition.
Complete this chart for yourself. First, complete parts 1 and 2. What are the pros and cons of what you are currently doing? Sometimes just putting it down on paper will help you resolve your uncertainty about change. Some things that can help lead to success are:
Believing you can succeed. Look at any past failed attempts as learning steps.
This guide to change can help prepare you for situations that might trip you up.
You have to have confidence in yourself and a positive attitude can help that confidence.
There are really only two possibilities here. Either you will change your behavior, or you won’t.
So, now let’s take a few minutes to address the flip side. Let’s look at the cons of changing this behavior. By addressing the cons of changing your behavior – this may be your fears or barriers – you can start toward successful completion of the change. Now complete number 3 of the above chart. List the cons, or negatives, this change would bring into being. Many people use these barriers – the cons of change – as reasons to not keep that change in place. They become a “back door” that people may leave open in case they don’t continue with the change. For example, using the chart example above, you might say, “I’ll change my eating habits unless I find myself cooking every night.” It is important to recognize these and close them before you make your change. So, decide ahead of time how to do this. For example, the back door I just told you about. You can substitute: “I’ll change my eating habits and I will make time on Sunday afternoons to prepare foods so that they will only need to be warmed throughout the week.”
Lastly, complete number 4 on the chart, the good things about the change. These are what you need to focus on. They should be your self-talk because what we tell ourselves has more influence on us than anything others might do or say.
As you make changes to your current habits, you may find yourself in uncomfortable situations with friends and family. It would be easy to fall back into known and comfortable routines instead of sticking to your planned change. But, with some preparation, many of these situations can be overcome with a few coping skills. Coping skills fall into three categories, called the Three A’s of Shared Responsibility.
The first is Avoid. Avoid the thing that would trigger the previous behavior, even if only for a time until new habits have taken over and you become stronger in your convictions. The second is Alter. Alter or change the trigger situation. If snacking on sugary desserts after dinner is a problem, prepare a fruit bowl ahead of time. If stopping for that soda on the way home is a habit, drive a different route. And finally, the third is Alternatives. Find alternatives or substitute something else into the scenario.
We humans are definitely creatures of habit and changing those habits is not always easy, but it is doable. Taking control of your situation, in fact an attitude of unwillingness to relinquish control, will come in handy when it comes to making changes. Even a little anger over any habit that controls you can be useful when utilized to propel you to change. Keep in mind that you have decided to make changes because they will be beneficial to you in the long run.
In closing, I’d like to remind you that the long term benefits from positive change far outweigh the short term discomforts that making changes brings.