Remember that song, “Hard Habit to Break” in the ’80s? Well, Chicago knew what they were singing about. A habit is hard to break because it’s so automatic, almost unconsciously performing the action. Therefore, to break one – in addition to building better ones – takes awareness and some work.
In this five-part series, we’ll take a look at how to assess and actualize better habits so we can live more fulfilling, productive, and peaceful lives.
To STOP a bad habit, we must first look at it objectively. Jot down when you do the habit and why you do it. For example, something as small as biting our nails can be a mindless bad habit that we don’t even realize we are doing at the time. When you catch yourself doing a habit, stop and ask yourself, “what am I feeling right now?” Anxious? Scared? Alone?
Now ask yourself what you could do to replace that bad habit with a healthier one. For example, you could take ten deep breaths and repeat a mantra instead of biting your nails. Also look for tricks that can help you break the habit, including changing your schedule. If you typically go to the fridge after work to get a snack, go to your bedroom and change your clothes first. Keep a healthy snack – such as almonds – in the car to keep you from the fast food drive-through. The switch in routine is a physical way to remove yourself from the space where the habit occurs. You could also link a new habit with an old one. If you are trying to go to the gym twice a week, do so right after work instead of heading straight home as it will be harder to leave once you are there.
Consider rewarding yourself for better behavior with a gift you’ve been wanting or a place you wanted to go.
Consider getting an accountability partner to help you – especially nice if better health is a goal. Maybe that friend or neighbor can go on walks with you because it’s harder to stay in bed if it’s just you walking alone. Accountability is one of the key roles I play for my clients. I will send them reminders or touch base at certain times to help them stay on track.
The rule of thumb has been 21 days (or times) to establish a new habit. That might take longer for those with ADHD, so grant yourself extra time and be patient with yourself. Remember to start small and add from there. If your goal is meditation or yoga 20 minutes a day, start with five minutes. Add an extra five minutes each week until you’ve gotten up to 20. Remember establishing the new goal may not be “fun” or pleasant and so our reward system may not kick into place until much later. If you want to switch from cream and sugar to black coffee, at first it may taste terrible, but after those 21 cups 🙂 your taste buds will be more used to it. Give it time.
The challenge for those with ADHD is to give yourself reminders and stop the negative self-talk because memory and perfection can get in the way. Just because you may have tried and failed to break the habit or instill the new one in the past doesn’t mean you can’t be successful this time. Write down your goals somewhere you can see them, such as on your bathroom mirror or on a paper on your nightstand so you can remind yourself each day to focus on it.
I’d love to hear the habits you would like to make or break and your progress. I believe in you!