Health & Wellness / Healthy Weighs

It’s Groundhog Day, Again…You Know What That Means

Dr. David Mahoney, a family medicine doctor with Roper St. Francis Physician Partners discusses how to overcome bad habits and live a healthier life.

In Pennsylvania where Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow, Groundhog Day may well have to do with whether or not spring appears in six weeks. But here in Bill Murray-land, we know better. Groundhog Day is all about the 1993 film, where Charleston’s one and only Murray plays a weatherman doomed to repeat the same day, day after day. The comedy works because we recognize that uncomfortable feeling. We also often repeat the same mistakes, make repeated bad choices and endure days that feel like they’re on an endless, unchanging loop.

GroundhogSo how can we break out of bad habits? If you’re like most Americans, you’ve already given up on your New Year’s resolutions, because habits are called habits for a reason. They’re habitual, and really hard to break. But it’s not impossible!

Here are three suggestions for re-grounding yourself in better, healthier habits this Groundhog Day.

  1. Set small goals. Shooting for the stars is a common theme, but when trying to break habits and change your lifestyle, this often becomes a detriment. Aiming high and failing can destroy any motivation to continue! And the fact is, your subconscious self does not like change, particularly big ones. Small, incremental changes to break bad habits will largely go unnoticed by your subconscious.
  1. Replace the bad with the good. Your habits exist for a reason: they address certain needs in your life. Whether it entails reaching for a cigarette to deal with an overbearing boss or comfort-eating to help treat the winter blues, we form these habits because they help. Deciding to simply stop a particular behavior is difficult because it means we no longer have a mechanism to meet these ‘needs’ in our lives. Instead, we can replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit. Exercise to replace over-eating, for instance. Easier said than done, but easier done than simply stopping the bad habit cold turkey.
  1. Persistence pays off. How long does it take to form new habits? According to a 2009 study from University College, London, it takes an average of 66 days to do so. Habits are essentially routine, settled and regular practices that are done without much conscious thought. Our brains are hard-wired to automate as much as possible in an effort to better multi-task. Cleaning your room, we hope, was made into a routine when you were a child. Over time with repetition, it became automated and, hence, a habit. The same can be said for bad habits. They are formed over time and are hard to break, and even harder to replace by a good habit.

Once formed though, a good habit will stick with you for a lifetime. Don’t give up and burrow in your groundhog hole, hopeless for change. Follow these guidelines and you will be surprised at how quickly you can overcome bad habits and replace them with healthy ones.

By Dr. David Mahoney, a family medicine doctor with Roper St. Francis Physician Partners





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