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Febfast: Pause for a cause

Australia celebrates ‘Febfast’ in February- A month of pausing a vice to improve your well-being. Whether it’s sugar, alcohol, certain unhealthy foods, or something else, hitting the ‘pause’ button on unhealthy behaviour can help you to break existing unhealthy habits or routines. 
According to research conducted by the Harvard Business Review, breaking bad habits is difficult because we’re continuously being overloaded with stimuli that are designed to make us crave and consume- these take over our reward-based learning system. This involves, for example, a trigger (such as hunger) followed by a behaviour (such as eating) and a reward (feeling sated), and these three components show up every time we want to fulfill a need (such as smoking a cigarette or eating a chocolate). Every time we try to soothe our need/craving, we reinforce the reward and it becomes a habit. 
So, how do we break these bad habits? Take a look at a few ways below as suggested by psychologist Scott Bea that can help you to start ‘fasting’ your vices.

Prepare for discomfort

Dr Bea says that “[A]s humans, we resist discomfort” and one of the best ways to keep yourself on track to breaking bad habits is to prepare yourself for discomfort. Remind yourself that you’ve been sedentary for many months (or years) and that the first few times you exercise properly, you’re likely to feel tired (and perhaps a bit sore). Another motivating factor to keep in mind is that this discomfort won’t last forever- if you persist in your goal and exercise regularly, what was once difficult will soon become easy.

Create a game plan

Include a start date for your behaviour modification plan, and list what you’ll be doing to change that behaviour. As you go along through your plan, track your progress and the challenges you’ve faced- remember to have positive self-talk throughout, as well. Dr Bea notes that “[W]e can easily tell ourselves ‘Life is tough right now; I’ll start at another time’. You have to watch that you don’t seduce yourself away from change”- by having a plan in place and putting it somewhere that you’re reminded of it, you’ll be able to remind yourself of your goal.

Set realistic goals

If you’re going to take on more than you can handle, your journey will be a difficult one- rather start small and try to adopt incremental goals that will increase your chances of getting started and continuing with that momentum until you can set larger goals. For example, if you’ve been living a mostly sedentary lifestyle and you want to break the habit of not exercising, don’t task yourself with running for 30 minutes on your first try- set a goal of 10 minutes and when you’ve succeeded at replicating that, set your sites at 20 minutes, and so on.

Establish incentives

The plan is to break a bad habit, right? So why not reward yourself for doing so? Incentives can motivate you to do uncomfortable things- including breaking unhealthy habits. You can create rewards for yourself that are symbolic (such as placing a gold star sticker on your goal plan) or not (such as treating yourself to a spa day) upon reaching milestones- these can be daily, weekly, or whatever frequency helps to keep you motivated!

Remove temptation

By removing temptation, you’ll be able to more successfully navigate your journey by not having unhealthy distractions pulling you toward the very habit you’re trying to break. If your goal is to stop eating candy, you may start craving it, and seeing a box of chocolates in the cupboard will cause all sorts of excuses to start popping up such as ‘if I don’t eat them now, they’ll expire and I don’t want to throw away food’ or ‘if I throw them away, I’ll be wasting money’- while both of these may be true, the best way to go about it is to give them away at the start of your journey (and don’t buy them again). 
Something important to always keep in mind is that whether you’re trying to break a bad habit for a month or for eternity, it’ll always be a journey and it won’t be easy in the beginning. Don’t put yourself down if you stumble along the way- changing a habit is no easy feat. 
If the bad habit you want to break is to not think as negatively as you have in the past, take a look at our tips on how to look on the sunny side of life, or if you want to stop behaviour that causes you to stress a lot, read about our five ways to reduce stress at work.