We lead habitual lifestyles. While you may not travel to work the same way everyday or eat the same meal for breakfast everyday, you still have habits like brushing your teeth after every meal or washing your hands every time you use the bathroom. Some habits are considered "good", some "quirky", and others "bad".
Often, the habits you have chosen are a mechanism of coping with something. For instance, emotional eating temporarily dulls the pain or irritation of the situation at hand. By recognizing this expression of yourself, you can begin to replace that habit with a new one that will create more fulfilling results.
This exercise has helped many people change their habits. It is an exercise in getting to know you better and making way for positive change. You will need your pen and journal to get you started. Answer the questions thoughtfully.
Identify and Understand Your Trigger
What happens to get you started? What pushes your buttons? Is it something you can control? If you can control the trigger, start by alleviating it. More likely though, the trigger comes from the outside and is not in your control (save for avoiding certain people).
How does your trigger make you feel? Stressful? Irritated? Crabby? Sad?
How do you respond? Do you lash out or withdraw?
How do you reward yourself? Understand, this is your ‘bad’ habit.
Write each response in your journal to get you thinking clearly about your habit.
Your ‘Bad’ Habit Has Been Good to You
Why have you chosen this habit? How is it rewarding? There is most likely a sensation you are looking for when you indulge in this habit. Does it make you feel free, high, happy, relaxed, in control, vindicated, etc.?
You probably have an image that goes with your reward, which makes this habit work for you. For example, maybe your emotional eating allows you to escape to a Café in Paris, France. While flying off to France may not be feasible at this moment, the sensation of indulging in coffee and pastries is very feasible. Thus, you are rewarding yourself with a small reminder of a lifestyle you desire. Think this concept through and be detailed about your emotions or thoughts.
Remember your old habit most likely works. While eating pastries might be causing weight gain, the habit still managed to bring you some temporary peace of mind. So, why do you want to change it? What is it that you do not like, that has come as a result of this habit? Weight gain, an inability to rest, addictions, etc.
Create Positive Reinforcement
Go back to what triggers the unwanted habit. What is it that you really want in response to the trigger? What result are you looking for? Are you looking for stress relief, inspiration, excitement, control, expression, etc.? Think of the result in the positive. In other words, you really want to be calm, instead of you do not want to be stressed. You want to speak out instead of you do not want to cower.
Create a positive image of what you want. Visualize it daily or post it on a vision board. See yourself with a confident posture. Feel yourself being strong and grounded or relaxed and calm. Whenever you visualize or see the result you are after, experience the emotion that it evokes in you.
Ignore the desire to undo the damage of the old habit, because that, again, is a negative reinforcement. In other words, ignore the desire to focus on getting rid of the weight and stay focused on creating a new, healthier habit that still allows you to manage your stress.
Decide on a new enjoyable and healthy thing you could do to get to the results you desire? This is your reward. It needs to be enjoyable for your psyche to adapt it as the replacement habit. This new habit should also be feasible. For example, stretching, meditating, or walking can be enjoyable. Make certain that they are also feasible. If traffic jams stress you, can you stretch or go for a walk when you reach your destination? Do you have time available to manage any one of these options when the need arises? Instead of inflicting pain upon yourself, could you get to the gym and hit a punching bag. Better yet, maybe you could purchase a beanbag or 'at-home' punching bag for quicker, more instant results.
Create a Trigger Mechanism
Create a trigger mechanism you can control. Right now, breathe deeply and become present. Speak to your inner conscious. Bring together your thumb with your pointer and middle finger tips. Tell ‘YOU’, that anytime you make this motion, you will again be still, in an instant, allowing you to make a transition to your new healthier habit. Say this to ‘YOU’ with conviction. Own it and use it.
Every morning, for the next 30 days, remind yourself of your new trigger mechanism and what it will do for you. From this day on, every time your trigger occurs, use your trigger mechanism to put your mind in a space to indulge in the new healthier habit.
This exercise is effective. Sit down, alone, and commit to being honest with yourself and making positive change.