Dossier: Changing habits

Ten steps to new habits

How do you get rid of bad habits for good? It’s easier said than done. Daniel Hausmann-Thürig, an FSP-accredited psychologist, has a few tips on how to succeed.

Text: Ruth Jahn

Motivation as a driver

Although personality traits such as conscientiousness and willingness to change do help to keep resolutions, the most important factor is your own motivation.

Analyse your real needs

Don’t just make a resolution on a whim. Focus on your real desires and goals.

New habits have to be fun

They have to be rewarding. You should – in fact, you have to – enjoy a new habit, such as a sporting activity.

Make “If-then” plans

This is a tried-and-tested psychological trick. It works because resolutions such as “If I take the bus in the morning, then I’ll get off two stops earlier and walk the rest” feature a specific incentive.

Set realistic goals!

Research shows that if you want to change your behaviour for good, you should only change one specific habit at a time. For example: “After breakfast I’ll exercise for at least ten minutes with my weights.” Not: “From now on I’ll do press-ups, lift weights and go jogging more often.” This is counter-productive because it’s too vague and includes too many good intentions.

Believe in yourself

The more regularly you exercise or put your resolution into action, the less effort it will take.

Learn to handle setbacks

Be prepared to suffer setbacks and don’t be put off by them. Consider in advance what could stop you from following through on your good intentions and what you could do instead. For example, if the weather’s bad, go swimming in your local pool instead of jogging outside.

Support your endeavours

For instance, sticking post-its to the fridge door, activating reminders on your smartphone or laying your trainers ready at the door in the morning can help.

Make it official

For example, you could enter into a contract with yourself.

Enjoy your success

Keep at it and head calmly towards your goal. The search for a suitable evening ritual or the best sport for you will pay dividends. Focus on the deep relaxation and good feeling you experience after exercising. Or celebrate your higher level of fitness or toned upper arms in a few weeks’ time.

Dr Daniel Hausmann-Thürig is an FSP (Federation of Swiss Psychologists) accredited psychologist. He works in the Applied Social and Health Psychology team at the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich and is head of research into applied decision-making, with a focus on medical and health psychology.