How to change negative behaviour patterns

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Change your lifestyle for the better

How long does it take to break a bad habit or replace it with a good one?

After much research, I’ve realised that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but there are tried and trusted strategies which can help get us onto the path to success.

While I have done – and occasionally still do – timed challenges relating to exercise or nutrition, I believe it’s important to think of positive lifestyle changes as permanent fixtures in our lives, rather than short-term changes implemented to help us reach a particular goal.

So, for example, rather than thinking of exercise or healthy eating as something you’ll do only until you reach your fitness or weight loss goal, think of it as something you’re including in your daily routine to improve the overall quality of the rest of your life. Because the reality is that once you’ve reached your goals, you’ll want to maintain them and the only way to do this is to continue implementing the changed behaviour which enabled you to achieve what you were aiming to do.

One of the most valuable workshops I attended last year, was one on motivational interviewing, presented by Dr Chris Kresser at Paleo f(x), an international gathering of the Paleo community which is hosted in Austin, Texas every year.

Here are some take-outs from that workshop which could help you get into the right headspace to make your resolutions a reality. I suggest you take some time to think about these carefully, and then write down your answers so that you have something to go back to if you ever feel like you’re veering off course.


1. What do you want to change?

Be very specific about this. For example, saying that you want to eat more healthily is not enough. A specific goal would be “I’d like to eat at least one salad a day to increase my vegetable and fibre intake”.


2. Write it down

Write down how you think you’ll benefit from implementing this change in your behaviour. You may find that what you anticipated was accurate… or you’ll find that there have been more benefits. Write these down too because, in my experience, having a record of your journey helps when you feel like you’re losing focus or motivation.


3. What will happen if you don’t change?

Then write down how you think you might be negatively affected if you don’t implement the change in your behaviour. Here too, be specific. The fact that you’ve decided to make some changes indicates that you know there’ll be some negative impacts if you don’t change your current behaviour patterns.

4. Make it real

List three things you can do immediately to make this change possible. These can be very simple things. For example, when I did this exercise, my goal was to read more and the immediate changes I committed to making included creating a reading space in my home, by moving a lamp closer to the comfy couch I liked sitting on; to place my current reading material next to this chair, and to delay going into my bedroom where the TV is, until I had done some reading.


5. Make it last

Finally, list two things you can do to ensure the sustainability of this change in your life. In my case, I committed to writing reviews of the books I had read, either for my blog or the newspapers I work for; and I bought an audible subscription so that I had ready access to audio books to listen to while driving to and from work.


Know which triggers encourage harmful behaviour patterns

If you’re trying to break bad habits, it’s also important to be able to identify the triggers which encourage these behaviour patterns. For example, I would often go into a sugar-craved frenzy in the late afternoon. When I started examining this feeling, I noticed it usually happened around 3pm – and most often on a Tuesday.

When I expanded this examination from the self, to my work environment, it was clear what was setting me off. It was the stress of the five looming deadlines which still had to be met on our busiest day of the week. And the answer was to find a way to ease the pressure of a Tuesday afternoon.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, but the important thing was that through careful analysis of the situation, I was able to identify what was triggering a harmful behaviour pattern.

Chantel Erfort

I'm a yoga teacher and health advocate who runs and enjoys the outdoors. Having previously lived a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle, nothing makes me happier than being able to share the benefits of including some movement, mindfulness and healthy eating into one's life.