Vim & Vigor - Spring 2018 - University of Virginia - 19

Recognizing BAD HABITS

Every bad habit starts for the same reason, Johnson says: We feel discomfort,
so we do something-eat a cookie, vent
our complaints-to feel better. Having
recorded that positive feeling, the brain
reminds us to find the same solution
next time.
That's why the first step in changing
habits, she says, is simply recognizing
them as suggestions from your brain.
"If you know that's just a thought
flowing through your mind-'hey, let's
go get some cookies'-you know how
that works," Johnson says. "You don't
have to act on every thought."
Willpower, though, is only a shortterm strategy for stopping habits. It's
more effective to identify patterns
and replace undesirable habits with
healthier alternatives, says Jill Grimes,
MD, a spokeswoman for the American
Academy of Family Physicians.
For example, dessert might be the
follow-up to every family dinner. But
instead of serving cake and cookies each
night, you can start substituting fruit
salad or chocolate-covered strawberries.
"Look for your rituals and see how
you can make them a little healthier,"
Grimes says.

Changing Habits
TOGETHER

It's hard to be the only person choosing
salad over pizza, and it's easier to adopt
healthy changes with family support.
Try these ideas for improving habits
as a family-and bonding while you're
at it.
The habit: Your family constantly
grazes on chips, cookies, candy and
other unhealthy snacks.
3 The fix: Healthy snacks must be two
things: easy and visible, Grimes says.
Rinse and chop fruits and veggies when
you get home from the grocery store,
and store ready-to-eat servings in containers at the front of the fridge.

"You're going to eat what's there. We
all are," Grimes says. "No one's going to
pick up celery over a candy bar sitting
next to it."
The habit: Most of your meals come
from drive-thrus and restaurants.
3 The fix: It's hard to follow a healthy
diet at restaurants, where portions are
oversized and many options are high in
fat, salt and sugar.
Save dining out for certain nights of
the week, and find at least five healthy
recipes to prepare at home, Grimes
says. Add veggies to family favorites,
like pasta. And have children help in
the kitchen so they feel ownership of
the meal.
The habit: You rarely see a family
member without a cellphone in hand.
3 The fix: Set house rules so that
phones can't be used after a certain
hour or during meals. Don't forget the
rules apply to adults, too: You can't
expect kids to engage in dinner conversation when their parents are staring
at screens.
The habit: After school and work, the
whole family hits the couch for the rest
of the night.
3 The fix: Make exercise a habit by
incorporating it into your schedule,
like taking a family walk or bike ride
after dinner.
The habit: The TV is on all night,
every night.
3 The fix: Start by turning off
the TV at least 30 minutes before

bedtime-light emitted from TVs and
other screens can affect sleep quality.
Instead, end the day with screen-free
activities, such as reading. Find substitutes for TV time, like a family game
or craft. ■

HOW LONG
DOES IT TAKE
TO FORM A
HABIT?
If you're still struggling to break a habit
after a few weeks of effort, keep trying.
On average, it takes 66 days before a
new behavior doesn't feel new anymore,
according to a study published in the
European Journal of Social Psychology.
Researchers looked at how long it took
participants to reach "automaticity" with
new eating, drinking or activity behaviors.
Behaviors become habits when they're
performed often enough to create a mental association between a situation and an
action. At that point, the situational cue
triggers the behavior without you even
realizing it.
That makes your environment a key
player in habit formation, researchers
say. If drinking is the situation that cues
you to smoke, you may need to cut the
alcohol to ditch cigarettes. If you're building a daily walking habit, you'll probably
see more success if you aim to do it every
morning after breakfast than if you don't
specify a time.

VIDEO

Curiosity Kills the Habit
Being aware of the thoughts and feelings behind your unhealthy behaviors
makes it easier to change them. Go to youtube.com/tedtalksdirector and
search for "a simple way to break a bad habit" to hear psychiatrist Judson
Brewer discuss the relationship between mindfulness and addiction.

SPRING 2018

19


http://www.youtube.com/tedtalksdirector

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