Eating all things in your line of sight because you just quit smoking? Drinking more coffee to try and slow down your overeating? Biting off people's heads in the morning because you've quit drinking coffee? When kicking bad habits, sometimes we "bite off more than we can chew." Whether you are trying to quit smoking, drinking, gambling or trying to eat better, kicking bad habits is a difficult and emotional process.
"New Year's Resolutions are a great motivator to shed unwanted weight, quit smoking or start spending more time with your family . . . but often we see people take the 'cold turkey' approach to kicking a bad habit, which is not the most effective or healthy way of changing unwanted behaviors. In fact, this can often lead to new unwanted behaviors that take the place of the old ones." says Dr. Jeffrey Wilkins, Director of Addiction Medicine in the Thalians Department of Psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Defining goals and setting realistic time lines for kicking habits is the key to changing unwanted behaviors like smoking, overeating and caffeine addiction. While cigarette smoking is a habit that many people prefer to stop "cold turkey," for many other habits this approach can be a set-up for failure because our mind and body are not programmed to adjust so quickly to abrupt changes.
Consistent with the results of scientific studies, Dr. Wilkins recommends the following tips to help identify, plan and eventually kick bad habits for a healthier, happier New Year.
- Define your goals and then commit yourself to achieving them. People who acknowledge that they need to make a change in their life are more likely to achieve that change than those individuals who think that they may, or may not, have a problem. Taking active steps towards making that change (i.e., joining a self-help group) will move you closer to success in kicking the habit. Change is not easy and requires commitment. As a start, by defining your specific behavior goals, you can begin tailoring your activities and attitudes accordingly.
- Don't do it alone. Get help. If you choose to discuss your goals with others, choose people who want you to succeed. Quitting bad habits is hard enough without having to watch the people near you enjoying what you have now deprived yourself of. If you want to quit smoking and your spouse is still smoking, your goal will be significantly more challenging. Find someone with the same goals, who wants to kick the same habit. Find support from friends, family, colleagues, or professional support groups.
- Establish clear and realistic sub-goals and timelines. Rome was not built in a day - if it was that easy to kick a bad habit, we simply wouldn't have bad habits. Chart your progress in a diary or calendar that outlines a realistic amount of time to eliminate the bad habit. If you are drinking 5 cups of coffee in the morning and have a goal of cutting down to one, give yourself a few weeks to achieve this (i.e., one cup less a week). The first big hurdle is to achieve 90-days of the target behavior.
- Add, don't just subtract. Add competing desirable behaviors to compensate for the elimination of bad habits. We often need something to take the place of a habit to help us maintain focus to successfully kick a habit. By replacing bad habits with positive ones, like exercise, meditation, time with family, healthier foods and activities, you are less likely to replace old bad habits with new bad habits.
- Allow for some slippage - but not constant slippage. If you have decided to give up sweets to lose a few pounds or protect against cavities, but decide to have a bit of your aunt's famous cheesecake, this is not an excuse to give up your goals and keep going. Plan ahead and set limits for yourself.
- Reward yourself! Continue to acknowledge and reward yourself for the "baby-steps" you take in kicking a bad habit. Let the people around you reward your success and cheer you on to the next step. This can be accomplished by setting up a "success amount" that continues to reward you as you continue to succeed. For example, you can treat yourself to a desired CD for every week of success and a DVD player for achieving 90 days of maintaining a target behavior. If you are going to buy these things anyway, you might as well do it in a way that helps you with your life goals.