Explore the possible origins of your unwanted behavior, as well as your motivations for change, through keeping a journal, mindful awareness, or talking with a partner. Be realistic about who you are and how you operate. We cannot change every little thing about ourselves, so a little self-awareness can save us a lot of stress and frustration. Pick your battles, and know what motivates you – and what doesn’t. Work out with a friend if you’re more motivated by spending time with others than going to the gym alone. Feeling competent reinforces healthy new behaviors, so do what works for you. Work with, rather than against, your strengths, abilities and natural disposition.
Now that you know yourself a little better, learn to anticipate your triggers – and avoid them! The easier you can make it for yourself to succeed, the easier it will be to create new behavioral pathways in the brain. Be prepared for obstacles and challenges. Avoid places and people that may sabotage or tempt you.
Accentuate the Positive, Minimize the Negative
Unfortunately, biology doesn’t always help us. We can’t get rid of all negative signals – we need some for survival – but us modern humans can minimize our negativity bias by intentionally focusing on the positive. Write down three positive things that happened to you this week and call them to mind often. Keep a gratitude journal. Be your own cheerleader. Become aware of negative self-talk and counteract it with positive affirmations.
Practice Acts of Self-Care
Unwanted behaviors are usually attempts to manage stress, anxiety, and overwhelming emotions. Sometimes our attempts turn into problems rather than solutions, but guilt, shame and self-punishment do not help. In fact, they usually create exactly what we are trying to avoid: stress, anxiety and discomfort. Stress-reduction and good self-care are essential components to long-lasting behavior change. Become aware of your mind-body vulnerabilities. Most of us resort to unhealthy behaviors when we are tired, hungry or emotionally triggered. Reduce your stress by slowing down, doing yoga, meditating, gardening, exercising, laughing, helping others, and/or seeking support from positive friends and family.
Be Patient and Persistent
Change takes time and persistence. It took a long time to entrench your unwanted behaviors, so it takes a little while to undo them (perhaps 30 days for lasting change, but you can start to feel a healthy shift sooner, if you’re consistent). When you are consistent and persistent, though, the muscles get stronger, and it becomes not only easier and less painful to work out, but part of your muscle memory. Give yourself permission to go slow, and know that setbacks are part of the process (but less likely if you pace yourself). We may have to do the opposite of our urges for a while, and fake it until we make it, but the human brain is much more plastic than previously believed.