It costs nothing to practice healthy behaviors, but it costs a lot to ignore them. However, changing negative health behavior can seem overwhelming. We may underestimate what is required to succeed, disillusion ourselves with failure, or fail to commit to the desired behavior (Disalvo, 2017).
How do we so easily forget or ignore the impact of negative health behaviors? High blood pressure, for instance, is a common health issue. It’s caused by behaviors people adopt, such as: lack of exercise, high sodium intake, frequent fast-food intake, heavy alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, and high stress. People embrace these unhealthy behaviors with or without knowing the advance effects on their health. People are often so focused on other aspects of life that they tend to forget the importance of their health. Adopting healthy behaviors can lead to decreased illness. Changing health behavior may feel impossible, but applying behavior theories can minimize the challenges.
Habit formation is the process of automatizing new behaviors. Old habits can be hard to break, and the development of healthy habits is often more difficult than one would like. That is because our neural pathways etch the behavioral patterns we most often replicate. The good news is that new patterns can be created and sustained by repetition. With enough determination and a smart approach, even long-term habits that are detrimental to one's health and well-being can be shaken. To make the habit-forming cycle more effective, experts recommend having a clear and realistic target for improvement, becoming mindful of how your environment affects the effort to move towards it, and looping in other people who care about your progress. People tend to get comfortable with habits and routines. You can change your habits to break from harmful ones and develop habits that are more constructive and beneficial!
If you’re a heavy alcohol consumer, creating healthy habits to replace your old habits can feel hard. Start small. You can form a habit of avoiding situations that make you want to drink. Or you can make it a habit to turn down any offers where you may be expected or required to drink. Perhaps you’re recovering from addiction to a different specific substance, and you just want to bring your alcohol consumption into healthier limits. This might mean eliminating your substance of addiction completely but still allowing alcohol, decreasing how much you drink, and forming healthy habits around alcohol consumption. As you form habits, it is essential to practice how to exercise restraint, especially if the habit has a likelihood of being a potential threat to your health. Introducing healthy habits could include exercise, listening to music that lifts your mood, a mindfulness/meditation practice, healthy eating, or taking time to slow down your breathing and pay attention to how you feel.
Self-control is the process of overcoming or altering the dominant urges of a person’s reaction (Lindquist, 2017). It is used to counteract affective, mental, and behavioral patterns that otherwise might prevent people from achieving their goals. Self-control is what people use to curb their urges and impulses.
Let’s say that due to a lack of willpower, you live a sedentary lifestyle despite knowing it is bad for you. If you decide to develop a habit of exercise, it’s important to consider measures that help reinforce the commitment to doing more exercise. Distractions when trying to gain self-control are obvious, so be ready to face them more often. Develop strategies to help you keep your goals when faced with temptations. If you know your temptations, what will you do when they arise? For example, if someone chooses to walk after work instead of taking a bus home, they can use earphones and listen to some music that will not let them focus on the buses moving past (American Psychological Association, 2019).
Cues to action are external activities that cause a desire to make a difference in health. For instance, being around people who live active lifestyles can help you want to be more active. Conversely, ads for junk food can make you crave eating fatty, high sodium foods. A call to action can help you make changes by fostering the desire to make a healthy switch. Some health behaviors are toxic, and they need to be changed, but the changing process is faced with several barriers. Behaviors like lack of exercise, high sodium intake, frequent fast-food intake, heavy alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, and high-stress can increase susceptibility to illness and can be toxic. With the application of realistic behavior change theories like habit formation and self-control capacity, it is possible to change those toxic health behaviors. There is hope for change. There is hope for your health. Join us at Hope Recovery and Healing for a psychoeducation class to learn more about how you can develop your own change plan and find support as you put it into practice.
American Psychological Association. (2019). Strengthening self-control. Retrieved from < https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/willpower-self-control.pdf>
Disalvo, D. (2017). 8 Reasons why it’s so hard to really change your behaviour. Retrieved from < https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/neuronarrative/201707/8-reasons-why-its-so-hard-really-change-your-behavior >
Lindquist, E. (2017). Changing health behaviours with medicine. Retrieved from < https://cla.umn.edu/psychology/news-events/story/changing-health-behaviors-experimental-medicine >