Diet Habits App: Habits

Change your habits, change your life.

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‘What are habits?’
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Habits are the instinctive behavior patterns that we follow because of the way our brain is wired. Our brains have only so much mental energy to devote to making decisions and so faced with most of our day-to-day circumstances we react in automated ways following pathways that have been built into our brains. Most of our day-to-day actions are as a result of these automated ‘habits’. But our brains are highly malleable and we can rewire our brain and we can change our habits through self-aware conscious effort. When we do anything repeatedly our brain cells will physically grow new connections. Doing so for a period of about a month, applying where necessary self-control and willpower, is usually enough for alternative pathways to be formed and for continuation of the habit to then be largely effortless.
‘You need to want to change'
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It takes a lot of conscious effort to change a habit, and you need to commit to wanting to do so. List out your reasons and regularly remind yourself of them. Keep them at the forefront of your mind. Many bad habits are slowly killing you and contributing to a far lower quality of life than you would otherwise have, probably both in the short and the long term, and you should keep reminding yourself of this with regards the particular habit you are looking to change.
‘Environment and triggers'
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Our habitual actions are largely automated responses to particular cues or triggers. Such triggers could be almost anything we see, smell, hear, or otherwise sense which then sets off our automated response. To change such automated responses we can then focus in part on changing our environment to reduce the occurrence of the particular triggers, and in part intervening through conscious aware effort to change our response to the particular triggers.
‘One habit at a time’
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If you want to change a number of habits, do so one habit at a time. Dissipating your mental energies across many habit changes at the same time just means you are likely to fail in all of them. Our ability to apply conscious aware effort to go against our natural tendencies is a limited resource and we are better off focusing it on a particular habit change for a given period of time until such time as we then require far less mental energy to maintain the new behavior and can focus on something else.
‘Focus on replacement habits’
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Rather than simply focusing on trying to give up a particular bad habit, such as not to snack on unhealthy foods, seek to focus on the good habits, such as snacking on something healthy, as a replacement. It is easier to work towards something than that it is to move away from something. Be very specific about what it is you want to start doing as a replacement for what you want to stop doing.
‘If x then y’
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Set yourself rules for ‘when x happens, then I will do y’. Look to disrupt the onset of a bad habit occurrence as early in its formation as you can. The more you do this, initially with deliberate self-aware action, the more it will gradually become instinctive. Note that use of a Feedback Diary can help you identify specific If … then … rules to seek to adopt.
‘Small steps and persistence’
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Most people who fail in changing their habits do so because they expect more or less instantaneous success, and when they don’t get it stop trying until next time when they repeat the pattern. By taking small steps, persisting with making gradual progress, and recommitting after any lapses, any habit can be broken or changed.
‘Use visualization’
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Visualize in your head doing the right thing in particular circumstances. Visualizing is like practice itself in terms of helping create new habits, just as it is with learning new skills.
‘Tackle Stress and Tiredness’
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We are far more likely to adopt bad habits when we are stressed or are not getting enough sleep. Important enablers to more successful habit change are thus looking to reduce your levels of stress and seeking to improve your sleeping habits.
'Reward yourself, but …’
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Some form of reward can help embed good behaviors and motivate you in persevering towards some target you may have set for yourself. Ensure however that the rewards you use do not themselves lead to new bad habits.

In particular be wary of what is termed ‘moral licensing’ whereby because we have done a number of good things we feel as though this gives us the right to be able to do something bad.
‘Track your progress’
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Keep track of your progress, using a diary, a notebook or a spreadsheet or whatever you feel comfortable using. Consciously seek over time to be seeing increasing progress. If you are not making progress look to understand why. If your current tactics are not working you may need to change your tactics.
‘Take responsibility and keep a positive mindset’
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If you are struggling with easy success in changing a given habit, it is all too easy to start making excuses. It may be you blame other people for not being supportive or for otherwise - deliberately or not - sabotaging your efforts. It might be you feel circumstances are just conspiring against you, or that your particular genetic make-up just makes it impossible. None of these are valid reasons for your lack of success. Ultimately you are capable of changing any habit, as demonstrated by the countless thousands and millions of others who have succeeded in doing so, and who were no more able to do so than you are.
'Enlist the help of others, but …’
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Many people are better motivated if there are others helping or encouraging them, whether some close friend or as part of some group. By all means take advantage of this. However you need to ultimately retain responsibility for your success. Your success is not other people’s responsibility, not even if you are paying them.
‘A Few Tactics’
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The following are a few ticks to help with regards changing habits: (a) Cravings associated with some bad habit are generally time limited, and if you can distract yourself for about 5 or 10 mins – maybe go for a short walk - the craving will often subside; (b) Your self control and willpower weaken later in the day. Pay particular attention to avoid putting yourself in the presence of temptations you’d rather avoid later in the day; (c) Derive some form of Mantra you can regularly repeat to yourself, and bring to mind as an extra resolve at key moments when you might be tempted to go against your new habit intent. (d) Read about others who have succeeded in changing their habits, particular the habits you yourself want to change, and remind yourself that there are countless others who have done so without you ever hearing about it.
Links
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11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

29 Ways to Successfully Ingrain a Behavior

How to break bad habits: 3 simple steps

How to Break a Habit: 15 Tips for Success

Note also there are many books on the topic of habit change which a quick google or amazon search will lead you to.