Why is it So Difficult to Change Habits?
Long-term behaviour change can be a daunting process. When positively motivated, change feels less of a challenge but when motivation wears off we are susceptible to feelings of failure and guilt; demotivating emotions that encourage us to continue with old habits, rather than attempt to adopt new ones.
To understand how to break habits, we first need to understand how they are formed. When we feel, behave or think in a set way over a period of time, we form a habit. This habit can dictate anything from our eating patterns to our exercise regimes. Habits are often formed subconsciously, making us feel as though we have no control over them — for example, if we attach a feeling of shame to eating due to a negative emotion associated with it, we will be more likely to continue with that habit and less likely to seek help for eating challenges, due to the negative emotion associated with it.
The key to changing habits is to step in before the behaviours become habitual. Easier said than done in some cases, as it is often only when behaviours become problematic that we begin to feel as though we need to change them. However, there are several ways in which you can improve your chances of breaking habits, or changing behaviours, even when they are embedded in your daily routine.
Accountability is key, with studies demonstrating that habit formation or change is improved by up to 95 percent if you share a goal with family or friends, in contrast to 65% if you are pursuing a goal alone. Hit when motivation is high and make the journey sustainable; a little every day is a far better approach than attaching a negative emotion to, for example, a particular difficult 30-minute workout, when you could have achieved huge enjoyment from a 10-minute burst of activity.
Changing a habit, or forming a new habit, takes commitment and consistency, so building on a small step and taking an accountability partner along for the ride is a proven way of achieving those seemingly out-of-reach behaviour changes. As Stanford University’s Dr. BJ Fogg, author of the Tiny Habits course says:
“The goal at this point is not volume. The goal is to make the habit automatic. So start by setting yourself up to succeed by giving yourself goals that are easy to meet.”
And, most importantly, be kind to yourself throughout. A lapse is not a failure, and recognising this gives you the power to make those small steps turn into milestones.