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May 08, 2017

How to break a bad habit in 5 steps

We all have things that we would like to work on when it comes to changing negative behaviors. After all, no one is perfect and evaluating your actions is key on the journey to becoming your best self.

A few years ago, I went through the Integrative Health Coach Professional Training Program at Duke Integrative Medicine, a program that changed my life. One of the wonderful teachers in my cohort was Linda Smith, who also happened to be the director of educational programs at Duke IM.

Through her teachings, Linda offered a shift in perspective that was hugely helpful to me personally in eliminating some chronically bad behavioral patterns.

Recently, Linda shared her implicit strategy for breaking bad habits with the Duke IM community and I wanted to share it with you. Here is her "5 Steps to Sustainable Behavior Change":

Notice When Your Habits Have Become Automatic.

Linda says that “unhealthy behaviors are largely unconscious, meaning we don’t really think about them.” Sometimes we don’t even notice that we are engaging in unhealthy behaviors because we are preoccupied with something else. Notice what habits have become automatic to you. Food for thought the next time you’re eating in front of the television.

Practice Mindful Awareness

Because so many of our negative behaviors are automatic, mindful awareness is the process by which we focus on bringing ourselves to the present and notice what we are doing. You don’t even have to stop the behavior, but be aware that you are pouring that extra glass of wine that you may not need. Drink the wine without criticism, but bring your awareness to the activity and the sensations that go along with it. Don’t let your subconscious push your awareness aside and try to think about what it is that you really want for your long-term health and wellbeing.

Identify Daily Triggers

“Our habits are often tied to other events in our day,” says Linda. Take notice of what is triggering your negative behaviors. Perhaps you like to smoke when you drive or eat sweets after a meal. Whatever it may be, pay attention to what events bring on the behaviors you are trying to change.

Become Aware of Emotional Triggers

How do your emotions play into your behavioral pattern? Do you eat, smoke or drink when you are tired, sad, angry, lonely, stressed? If so, you are not alone. Many people revert to negative behaviors when they feel emotions come on. Become aware of your emotional triggers to overcome them.

Ride the Urge Wave

Finally, once you have noticed and become aware of your behavioral patterns, try, “riding the urge wave.” Did you know urges typically only last anywhere from 1-5 minutes? Did you also know that the brain is trained to seek out pleasure and avoid pain? This becomes a problem because it is only programmed for to achieve short-term pleasure. As Linda says, we must retrain the brain to resist these short-term urges to avoid pain in the long-term. Be present in the moment when an urge comes on. Ride the wave and visualize your optimum health. Overtime, you just may achieve it, if you stay in tune and continue on the path to become your best self.

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I would love to hear about your experiences and any tips you may have. Please feel free to share your ideas here. Follow me for updates @christiemandia.

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