[Continued from Change a Bad Habit: Step One]
Recent brain research done at MIT indicates that habits never really die. They just play dead, like a monster in a bad horror flick, waiting for the right cue to come back to life. So before offing that bad habit, make sure you have a good habit waiting to take its place. That way, when the bad habit rises from the grave it’ll see your shiny new habit in its seat, shrug its slimy shoulders, and shamble back to the pit from whence it came.
Recall in the last post we thought about what precedes or leads to your bad habit. We’re identifying the cue(s) that trigger our bad habit. That’s an important step, because we’ll use that same cue to trigger our new, improved habit. Let’s say that you tend to gorge on chips and salsa whenever you watch TV. What cues trigger the chips-n-salsa zombie’s rise from the dead? Lying on the couch with the TV on perhaps? If that’s correct, then we know where to put our replacement habit. How about making sure you have a big bowl of rabbit food with you when you plop down in front of the idiot box? Or how about popping a stick of gum first? Both of those will help.
We’ll need to set a reminder at first, to make sure we’ve got the replacement behavior on deck when the evil monster habit shows up. We could put a post-it note on the remote; “Get Veggies.” Now every time we sit down and get ready to watch TV we’ll be reminded to begin the good habit.
IMPORTANT: The good habit should make performing the bad habit difficult or impossible. You can’t very well eat chips-n-salsa while chewing gum. It makes the gum crunchy, and the chips taste fruity.
Howzabout another example. Perhaps you tend to sit at your computer and type for too long, and you need to get more exercise. Cues? Sitting in front of the computer. Solution? It’s got several steps, but it integrates several good habits, so it’s worth it.
First, set your screensaver to display, “drink a glass of water,” after two minutes of inactivity Now, as soon as you get ready to work on the computer, you see the screensaver. You must down an entire glass of water before you can begin typing. (Be tough on yourself; think seventh grade soccer coach.) That’s good habit numero uno; drink more water. In thirty minutes to an hour–depending on how big a glass you used and your bladder size–you’re going to have to get up and use the facilities.
Now for good habit number two; after using the little lady’s room, do a set of twenty push-ups (or sit ups, or walk up and down a flight of stairs, or the exercise of your choice). You may have to post a reminder on the back of the bathroom door until you remember to do it regularly (no pun intended). Then you return to that computer … aaaand, there’s the screen saver reminding you to drink a glass of water. Chug another glass o’ water. Lather, rinse, repeat.
You’ve seen enough horror movies to know that monster won’t die the first time you kill it. That bad habit will keep coming back, so you’ll have to keep practicing the replacement habit until the bad habit stays dead … research shows that it usually takes around thirty days for habits to be extinguished, give or take a week. So every time the chips-n-salsa zombie shuffles into the room, eat another carrot stick and pat yourself on the back. Sigh…. Only 29 days to go.
Next time we’ll talk about the three things that make behavior change a cinch.