How to change unhealthy habits?

It might be a cliché, but at the end of the year we often start to think about the new year. And especially about what we would like to improve. As life coach Anthony Robbins says ''progress equals happiness''.

We all have some bad habits, but some of these habits can be detrimental to our health such as smoking, doom thinking and unhealthy eating habits. Often bad habits have slipped (unnoticeably) into our daily lives, but fortunately there is also a way to get rid of these habits. Sometimes with a lot of motivation, some help, books … For this article I dived into books and studies about this topic to bundle the best tips for you. Because how do you  change an unhealthy habit?

1. Figure out why you want to change

I once read that if your goal is stronger than your habit, it’s easier to get rid of that bad habit. This also means that you really need to know which habit you want to tackle. So if you are really fed up with being overweight, tired of eating too much sugar, of smoking, and if you are really fed up with your inactive lifestyle, then there is often an opposite goal that you would like to achieve. You would like to be slimmer, healthier or run a marathon. In developmental psychology, intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards, while extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards such as fame, compliments and money. You actually need both type of motivation to reach your goal. So let’s say you would like to eat healthier, then your intrinsic motivation might be to have more energy and to see improvements in your overall health. On the other hand, receiving compliments from family and friends or buying a new pair of pants is an important extrinsic motivation.

2. There are people willing to help

Although it may sound serious when someone says that you have to seek help, but it doesn’t have to be so intimidating as you think.  The willingness and motivation to change will need to come from yourself, but support is very important. If an unhealthy habit is affecting the quality of your health and life, then you have every right to seek help. This can be a friend or family member, but did you know that your health insurance can also help you? An FBTO health insurance can help you stop smoking by reimbursing certain costs associated with this. After all, this habit directly affects your health.

3. Start small

We don’t need the beginning of a new year to change a bad habit. The problem with New Year resolutions is that they are often a bit too enthusiastic. Find a good time during the year where you can create the time and energy to tackle just one habit. Changing your whole life at once is probably too radical for most of us. It’s so difficult to tackle multiple habits simultaneously. It is of course not impossible, but if you want to keep long-term success, it’s not a great idea to immediately tackle multiple habits in once. So start small with just one habit.

4. Journal

It is often said that it takes about three weeks to create a new habit. However, changing an already existing habit might take a bit longer. And since we tend to forget the progress we have made, it’s a good idea to keep track of your journey. Journaling (even the bad days) is also a good way to look at adversity in a bigger picture rather than just one big failure. A bit of self-reflection is also the key to get to know your feelings and not lose sight out of the ”why”. Journaling can also create a new perspective that stimulates growth. According to the American Psychological Association, journaling can reduce stress, it helps you focus and find your purpose.

5. Know your weak points and create a backup plan

It’s a good idea to figure out what your weak points are. Do you tend to eat a lot of sugar if you are tired or if you are trying to wind down in the evening hours? If so, look for an alternative, such as a big cup of tea, a piece of fruit or homemade healthier snacks. If you smoke a cigarette every day during your lunch break, try to connect with a colleague who doesn’t smoke or invite someone for a short walk instead.

”If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

6. Don’t be too hard on yourself

Changing a habit requires a lot of work, so don’t be too hard on yourself. If you are too focused on changing your habit and everything in your life seems to revolve around discipline, your new healthy habit probably will not last long. If you fail, just start over again. If things go very well, reward yourself. So let’s say you prepare a smoothie five days per week, reward yourself with a smoothie from your favorite juice bar during the weekend. Keep doing this until you no longer feel that you have to make an effort to live according to your new habit.

Try not to think in categories such as failure and success. Positive thinking really helps. Your body is directly affected by your thoughts. You need positive thoughts to stimulate positive behavior and positive habits, and that is why it is so important to turn failures into learning experiences.

7. Be grateful

If you set certain goals, it is quite tempting to only focus on your final goal or to compare your progress with others. Instead, it is far more important to focus on each and every little progress you have made so far. You could think about how much you hate going to the gym after work or you could be grateful for the fact that you are able to exercise. For the fact that you are healthy enough to move.

In addition, FBTO also offers you options that will help you financially. For example, the Conditie en Fitheid module offers great reimbursements to improve the health of your body and mind such as sports massages and personal training.

Don’t feel like eating healthy? Remember not everyone can afford or has the knowledge to be able to eat healthy. Be grateful that your body gives you the chance to change. According to the National Communication Association, showing gratitude has long-term benefits for our health and well-being. Studies have shown that expressing gratitude can also increase our hope and optimism and can contribute to reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Most unhealthy habits are actually a response to stress. Trying to change a habit is more difficult when we are stressed and we often compensate stress by looking for comfort in unhealthy habits

Are you also trying to change some unhealthy habits? If so, I would love to know. You can share your story and progress with me on Instagram with #thegreencreator. What is your “why”? How do you express your gratefulness? Do you have any tips that might help others?
  1. Oudeyer, P.Y., Kaplan, F. (November 2007) What Is Intrinsic Motivation? A Typology of Computational Approaches
  2. Murray, Bridget (June 2002) Writing to Heal
  3. Bradford, T. W., Grier, S.A., Henderson, G.R. (November 2017) Weight Loss Through Virtual Support Communities: A Role for Identity-based Motivation in Public Commitment
  4. Yoshimura, S.M., Berzins, K. (April 2017) Grateful experiences and expressions: The Role of Gratitude Expressions in the Link Between Gratitude Experiences and Well-being
  5. Leo Babauta, Essential Zen habits
This article was written in collaboration with FBTO. Thank you for your support to companies such as FBTO that help make The Green Creator possible. All text and opinions are 100% my own.

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