On New Year’s Day, we will look back at the year that was and create new goals to accomplish. Some desire to shed a few pounds, take an online class or maybe read more books. New challenges can be difficult, but leaving old habits behind is hard too. How do we break the cycles that inhibit us from achieving the lives we want to live?

January 1st feels like the perfect starting point, but it’s not the calendar we battle for fresh beginnings. It’s our way of thinking. We create habit patterns that root deeply inside in our minds. Not washing any dishes until clean spoons are needed or leaving piles of dirty socks on the floor are considered benign habits; causing no serious harm to yourself or others. Drinking a daily bottle of vodka or excessive gambling are detrimental habits requiring more intervention to shift one’s thoughts and behaviors.

In an article written for Psychology Today, author and clinician Robert Taibbi explains that changing habits is all about tackling our larger patterns consisting of several smaller patterns. Breaking habits down into steps—or segments—helps us end certain behaviors while increasing feelings of empowerment. Each successful positive habit achievement builds upon our willpower to continue making good choices or practicing good habits. 

You’re ready for change, so how exactly do you become one of those people with highly effective habits?

Establishing good habits

You want to complete a marathon? Great! What pinpointed actions taken now will get you closer to the finish line? Create a plan that increases your habit of running. Does coming home to dishes in the sink and mail stacked on the table stress you out? Formulate consistent, doable actions—immediately wash dirty dishes, shred or recycle junk mail, and start creating the zen-filled place you want to come home to. 

What’s the trigger?

If keeping bags of fun-sized candy bars in the pantry isn’t helping you live healthier, don’t buy them. If the fruits and veggies you purchase are never eaten, buy them pre-washed, pre-peeled and pre-cut, which takes prep work out of the way, making them easier to eat. If your entire bedtime routine with the kids is stressful, craft smaller habits within the routine that create a positive structure: electronics off, quiet time, pajamas on, story time, hugs and kisses followed by lights off. Identify the triggers, and stop them before they begin. Replace them with new actions that can develop into healthy habits. 

Instead of this, do that!

Rather than cut off behaviors or habits cold turkey, replace them with positive alternatives. If you’re cutting out alcohol, substitute your drink of choice with a non-boozy beverage. If you’ve resolved to get off the couch and meet new people, sign up for that tap dancing class you’ve been eyeing.

Don’t quit

We live in a society where we want everything to happen now. Be patient with yourself. If you stumble today, tomorrow provides a fresh start. Confide in a friend about your new habits. This will provide accountability, and maybe your friend will join you on the jogging trails. Most of all, if you need in-depth intervention, reach out to a professional who can help you achieve healthy habits.  

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