Out with the old, in with the new
Try these tips from the pros to maintain healthier habits during 2023
By Betsy Butler, Ohio Public Employees Retirement System
Jan. 19, 2023 – Have you experienced cell phone snubbing? This occurs when two people obsessively check their phones in each other’s presence instead of having a meaningful in-person conversation. At best, it could lead to feelings of guilt; at worst, it could result in a troubled relationship.
While the impulse to check a phone may not have begun as an intentional snub, the repetition of that action over time can lead to an unhealthy habit that is worth trying to overcome.
The same thing can apply to overeating, smoking, impulse buying, obsessive worrying and other self-destructive behavior patterns that people often attempt to commit to changing at the beginning of a new year. Automatic behaviors become such a part of our routine that we don’t even realize we’re doing them. Sometimes we crave them, even if we know we want – or need – to change. The key is to become more aware of our bad habits, then develop strategies to counteract them.
Wendy Wood, author of “Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick,” says that overcoming an unhealthy habit boils down to three things: Identifying the routine that you want to change; recognizing what prompts you to perform that routine; and understanding the reason that you want to keep indulging in it. Then, with focused attention, will power and practice, repeated over and over, bad habits will lose their appeal and be replaced by new, constructive behaviors.
Want to stop checking your phone? First, control the context cues that result in constantly checking your phone by moving it out of reach, leaving it behind, or turning it off so that you create a delay in having to power it up again. Second, come up with a positive replacement behavior to your existing habit, such as calling someone to say hello every time you check your phone. Third, give yourself a simple reward for not reaching for your phone, like reading a few pages of a book instead. They may not seem like much, but with repetition, these initially difficult changes become automatic, positive actions.
Motivation to change is a great start, but you need determination and discipline to create healthier behaviors. While it will be difficult, even overwhelming, at first, you can do it.
Richard O’Connor, author of “Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior,” suggests spending a few days studying your bad habit and its hidden triggers, noting what it does to your mood and your feelings about yourself. Decide what you can do about it, make a three-month commitment to change, and focus on your problem behavior, employing tools like mindfulness to overcome it. Acknowledge that you’ll lapse, but practicing each day does some good. When you’ve gained better control over the habit, celebrate the pride that comes in having accomplished something difficult.
Try these techniques to develop and maintain healthier habits. While not guaranteed to work for everyone, they certainly can help in making positive lifestyle changes.
- Set realistic goals. Start off slow and adopt an incremental routine that you can stick with over time. Wean yourself off the habit slowly, cutting back little by little. Making small changes might not sound like much, but if you stick with them, they eventually add up to big changes.
- Come up with a plan. Decide on a start date, the ways you’ll try to change the behavior, and how you’ll track your progress.
- Visualize yourself practicing the good behavior you seek. Thinking about the future demonstrates the value of the long-term benefits of change, such as better health and enhanced self-esteem, and how they are worth it in the end.
- Enlist support. Surround yourself with those who already have the healthy behaviors you seek. Ask friends, family and colleagues to support your efforts to change. Identify local support groups offering related programs and activities, such as walking clubs or weight management groups. Make a standing weekly exercise date with a friend.
- Establish incentives. Reward yourself when you’ve achieved a small goal or milestone. Put a dollar into a jar for every day you engage in a positive behavior, saving the money you would otherwise spend on your unhealthy habit so you can use it for something you really want.
- Avoid tempting situations. Don’t put yourself in a challenging environment that can lead you to act on an impulse. Instead, indulge in a relaxing hobby. Alternatively, try something new to encourage lifelong learning and development, such as attending a concert or lecture, learning another language, or volunteering. Planning your response to temptation can help you reconsider whether you actually want to give in to a craving.
- Distract yourself. When you feel the pull to revert to your familiar routine, do something simple to divert your attention. Call a friend, organize a drawer, or take a quick walk and get some fresh air.
- Recognize that this is a process. If you fall back into bad habits, forgive yourself. Remember that sometimes it takes many attempts to achieve what you want. A lapse isn’t a failure; it’s an opportunity to identify and overcome your personal obstacles and become stronger as a result.
Betsy Butler is the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System’s knowledge and issues strategist, researching information on pensions, retirement and health care. Betsy came to OPERS in 2009 after working as a special collections librarian for two OPERS employers: the Ohio History Connection and Miami University.