Changing the Equation: How to Turn Bad Habits into Good Ones

The start of year often elicits optimism with self-improvements, whether it’s to get into a more consistent exercise routine, eat better, quit a bad habit, make time for yourself, or just have more balance between work, life, and school. Changing one’s behavior is no easy task, though, especially if time, resources, and support are not heading in the same direction. While there are many theories on how to manage these three factors, here are some agreed-upon steps to help you work toward positive change.

Step 1: Start small

Start with attainable goals that ultimately lead toward the main change desired. We all like to feel successful, and setting small, realistic goals helps move our body and mind in the right direction. This follows the small changes model which holds small steps stack up to big change.

Step 2: Have a Plan

Plan for success by planning for life. As we know, life happens all the time–kids get sick, computers crash, and things at work can snowball—but if we build this into our plan with options to move forward, we are more likely to stay the course to our goal. For example, a work meeting ran late and now there is no time to work out. Build in an extra 10 minutes the next day or plan to park further away for the rest of the day’s errands to get your exercise in. Something is always better than nothing, no matter how small. The more organized you are for your day, the more likely you are to stay on track when life throws a curveball. Overcoming these obstacles also builds confidence and grit, which can be very helpful for staying the course long-term.

Step 3: In Good Company

Surround yourself with like-minded individuals. Having a support system goes a long way toward positive change. They are a source of encouragement when you go through setbacks and praise you when you reach that next step. They can also be a source of accountability depending on the behavior to change. For example, a friend to walk with or a co-worker to share a healthy meal with during a lunch break help keep the focus on healthy lifestyle choices.

Step 4: Have a Goal

Post your main goal. Writing down a goal is linked with a higher chance of achievement. This may be a quote on your phone or a note on the refrigerator.  As a collegiate distance runner, I wanted to break a 5-minute mile. I hand decorated a Post-It note with the time “4:58” and put it on my door so I could view it often. After hard work and time, I broke the 5-minute barrier with a 4:57 time.

When setting goals, it is important to be SMART with the approach: “specific, measurable, achievable (or action oriented), realistic, and time-oriented.”  We all are individuals and as such, one or more of the steps may resonate versus the others. Regardless, you deserve the shot to improve your outlook in any capacity that suits your life.