how to change bad habits in 8 steps
Everyone has their gripe. There are those who always promise themselves to do a bit of physical activity, to go to bed earlier in the evening, to go on a diet, to drink less coffee, to abandon cigarettes, to eat more vegetables, to find time for themselves, not to spend too many hours on social media, to cultivate a hobby, to see friends more often. The problem is that, in the end, that good resolution is postponed once, ten, or a thousand times, until it ends up in the drawer and is abandoned.
Each of us knows very well what we want (or should) do, but we don’t do it. In other words, we are unable to take action. According to Dr. Filippo Ongaro years astronaut doctor, an expert in longevity, and today CEO and founder of the Ongaro method, the basis of any path consists in changing one’s habits. Even when we talk about lifestyles, it is automatisms that direct us towards a long and healthy life or, on the contrary, towards an increased risk of disease.
What are habits
We call “habits” all those behaviors that, repeated constantly for a long period of time, become automatic, to the point that we no longer realize we are putting them into practice. Let’s think about when we learned to drive a car: the first few times, we were focused on the lights, the clutch, the gearbox, and the steering wheel. Today, after many years of practice, the gestures have become instinctive, so we are able to change gears, turn on the lights, and talk to those next to us at the same time.
«Daily habits tell who we are because they influence our choices and the attitudes we have in the various sectors of life. This is why they are also central to maintaining health,” says Dr. Ongaro. “For example, the habit of consuming junk food, lazing around all afternoon in front of the TV, overindulging in alcohol or any other form of immediate gratification is always linked to a long-term loss of well-being.”
But then how can we interrupt the negative automatisms of our lives and transform virtuous behaviors into habits, those capable of taking us on the path we have always dreamed of? Here are 8 steps towards new wellness practices.
- Let’s ask ourselves: “What is my bad habit?”
It’s not enough to say “I want to lose weight”, “I want to eat better”, “I want to drink less alcohol” or “I want to play sports”. We must first understand which (bad) habit is leading us astray. For example, perhaps we are unable to lose weight because we dine at restaurants too often, during our lunch break we always go into that sweet shop and buy something, we overdo it with alcohol because we indulge in too many aperitifs with friends, we do little physical exercise. Let’s think about it carefully and focus our attention on the specific habit that gets in our way.
- Let’s identify the trigger
Once we have identified the habit to correct, we take a step forward. Maybe we often dine at restaurants because we feel tired from work. Or maybe we go into that sweet shop because we’re bored. We don’t want to drive to the gym because driving in traffic stresses us out. ORevery behavior is triggered by a triggering factor, which must be identified.
- Let’s find an alternative habit
Now let’s find a new virtuous behavior that satisfies the trigger. For example: after work, we don’t do physical exercise, because we have the habit of going to the bar with colleagues and having an aperitif, which represents a moment of leisure and fun. The solution cannot be to go running alone or practice a sport that bores and tires us, but we must find an activity that gives us just as much fun and enjoyment, such as a Zumba class or a game of fell.
Or: we are constantly on Facebook because it relaxes us, but lately, we have noticed that spending all those hours on social media creates visual fatigue. To relax without staring at our phones, we could try meditation or treat ourselves to a relaxing massage in some wellness center. «This reasoning can be applied to any negative or harmful behavior that we want to correct. Let’s ask ourselves what we are trying to satisfy with that habit: desire for relaxation, sharing, joy, and emotion. Then, we find a healthy alternative that gives us the same sense of satisfaction» suggests Ongaro.
- Let’s give ourselves some time
Usually, when we think about change, we imagine a sort of Copernican revolution in our lives: a sort of “everything right away” or nothing. In reality, drastic changes are impracticable, because habits are not abandoned suddenly, but are corrected day after day.
«If we manage to by automating winning behaviors, we will take away space for negative ones and, in the long run, we will end up having a snowball effect on our lives”, describes Ongaro. For example, starting to play sports avoids us spending a few hours on the sofa, but it also ends up making us more attentive to nutrition, hygiene, and personal care. «A famous study claims that 21 days are enough to create a new habitbut in reality they are necessary from 2 to 6 months to succeed, without the risk of constantly falling back into the old one”, warns the expert.
- Let’s not fixate on the final result
Warning: in those 2-6 months of “training”, we should not expect great results, because the aim is to acquire the habit, not to take advantage of it. Therefore, it will not be a few months of dieting that will make us lose weight forever, but it will be the following months and years that will give us an enviable shape because eating well will become a real lifestyle.
«Unfortunately, in the initial and middle stages of every new habit, there is a so-called “valley of disappointment”. We expect to make progress in a linear fashion, and any discrepancy between our expectations and the timing of the outcome sends us into a tailspin», describes Dr. Ongaro. «Instead, the results arrive exponentially: for a long period they are very poor, and then accelerate quickly.” This means that we must not aim for the final result, the most delayed one, but start enjoying the immediate advantages: serenity, greater energy, a clearer mind, and time for ourselves.
- Let’s proceed in small doses
The starting dose must be minimal to avoid dropouts. If we want to adopt the habit of walking every morning, let’s not start with hours of walking, and let’s not fixate on the famous 10 thousand daily steps and then give up on the first rainy day. Rather, we start with 5-10 minutes but never skip. Within a few months, we will acquire the new habit and will be able to lengthen the sessions. It’s the same thing with diet: let’s start with a small change. For example, we start the meal with vegetables, and then we increase from there over time. If we want to cut the number of daily coffees, we scale up the cups little by little, and so on.
«UA new habit doesn’t have to turn your life upside down it must be sustainable over time: we opt for something that we can do every day of the week, including weekends, something that can be done even in a couple of minutes”, advises Ongaro.
- We use the environment to our advantage
We try to take advantage of our surroundings to remind us to carry on the new chosen habit. If we want to go running in the morning, in the evening we prepare all the equipment we will need next to the bed. If we want to read, we put the books in plain sight. If we want to drink more water, let’s keep it near the workstation. If we want to ride the exercise bike, let’s not keep it hidden in the closet. If we don’t want to eat sweets, we don’t keep the bowl of chocolates on the table in front of the TV. After all, Oscar Wilde already claimed: “I can resist everything except temptation”.
- Let’s add up the good habits
We trick the brain, taking advantage of existing habits to add something new. For example, when we drink coffee, we can do a few minutes of meditation; if we like television series, we watch them while pedaling on the exercise bike. Let’s use our imagination to our advantage and don’t forget to let ourselves be inspired by others: science teaches that human beings can be influenced and tend to adopt the behavior of the “herd”.
«If we want to lose weight, it will be best to avoid friends who go to restaurants every weekend. If we want to play sports, it would be better to join a sports group. Let’s broaden our circle of knowledge and let’s add new figures, who drag us in the direction of the new habit to consolidate”, concludes Dr. Ongaro.