Maybe you drink several caffeinated drinks every day. Or maybe you have a daily snack at 2 p.m., neglect other responsibilities to check Twitter and Facebook or regularly skimp on sleep. You’ve made a New Year’s resolution to break that habit during 2017, but you aren’t quite sure how to start.
Two University of North Texas faculty members in the Department of Disability and Addiction Rehabilitation have tips for breaking habits.
Paula Heller Garland, senior lecturer, and Justin Watts, assistant professor, both require students in their classes who are preparing to become addiction counselors to temporarily give up something during part of the semester and to keep journals tracking their progress and feelings. Heller Garland may be reached at 214-629-5383 and Paula.Heller Garland@unt.edu. Watts may be reached at 940-300-2928 and Justin.Watts@unt.edu.
The first step to breaking a habit, Watts says, is to consider the reasons why you want to make a change.
"Ask yourself: 'What will I gain from making this change?' Then ask: 'What will happen if I don’t follow through – in one year, two years or five years?'" he says.
Heller Garland adds that positive reasons for giving up something, such as improving your health, are the best motivators.
Knowing why you initially started a habit is very important for being motivated, she says.
"Look at your behavior patterns. If you snack at 2 p.m., ask yourself if you snack because you’re hungry from skipping meals or not eating enough, or if you’re bored," Heller Garland says.
Both faculty members agree that setting an action plan, including specific and realistic goals, is the best approach to breaking a habit.
"Goals like, 'I want to lose weight' and 'I want to be a better person' are not specific," Watts says. "What does it mean to be a better person for you? Set a few specific, realistic goals that you can obtain, such as becoming involved in a charity a few hours a week or increasing the number of hours you spend with your children. Or for weight loss, set a goal to lose one pound a week."
Other tips from Watts and Heller Garland:
●Determine if it’s better to give something up entirely or cut down gradually and use substitutions. If you snack, choose healthier foods and smaller portions. If you bite your nails, keep them manicured as an incentive to stop. If you want to cut down on checking social media, take the apps off your phone, Heller Garland suggests.
●Keep in mind that making a change is a process — not an event, Watts says. "Change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, and there will be slip ups. Learn from them and keep going," he says.
●Have an accountability partner, Heller Garland says. "Don’t break your habit in secret. Some of us aren’t equipped to not betray ourselves, and support systems are great, especially if someone is doing the same thing as you."
●Tell close friends and family members who may not be as supportive that you are trying to break your habit, and plan your response to them. If you’re trying to lose weight and Grandma keeps offering you the pie she made for you at a holiday gathering, "understand that one piece of pie is probably not going to hurt you, but also explain to her that you’re cutting down on portion sizes, and you appreciate what she did," Watts says.
"Setting clear boundaries and expectations with family and friends, and clearly communicating these is an essential part of the change process," he says.
●Get professional help if you want to break a chemical dependency to alcohol, drug and tobacco, but also seek help if you’re really struggling with making any change.
"Counseling has helped a lot of people to make the changes that they really want to make in our lives," Watts says. "If we can discover the purpose that an unhealthy behavior has in our lives, we can find other, more effective and healthier means to meet our needs."