The best way to ditch bad habits

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It’s a new year and many people are in the mood for making a fresh start. And that often means giving something up (cigarettes, alcohol, junk food).

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to stick with new year resolutions.

Usually, in February, 80% of the people will have given up. So what can we learn from the 20% who make it?

1. Perseverance

Perseverance underpins most stories of successful change, and it can take anywhere from six to 30 attempts to quit for those dependent on drugs to become abstinent.

While these numbers might seem off putting, it’s important to be realistic about the need to persevere.

Incremental change is known to be superior to overly ambitious targets – appealing as they might be.

2. Planning

This leads to the second “p” – planning. Conventional wisdom suggests that planning improves the chances of success, but there is evidence that unplanned attempts to quit smoking can be just as successful.

Good news for anyone embarking on an impromptu attempt to change.

So although spontaneous attempts can be successful for smokers, picking the right day to start changing other habits is likely to play a part.

We know that motivation and energy fluctuate, so think about when you will have maximum levels of both. Starting well gives the initial encouragement needed to get to day two.

3. Learn from lapsing

Having a lapse shouldn’t be viewed as a failure or used as an excuse to give up. It can be tempting to view change in a binary way – success or failure.

Instead, view a lapse as an opportunity to gain insight, reflecting as honestly as possible on why the lapse happened and how this could be avoided or counteracted on the next attempt at change.

Rather than focusing on what you are losing by giving up smoking or alcohol, think of what you will gain (more money, better sleep).

A useful exercise to help assess personal benefits is the decision balance sheet.

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