So, you’re ready to make a change that matters to you. You’ve planned for this change. You have your larger plan and smaller steps defined. Let’s get started.
As you start, it may help to know that you don’t have to do it all at once. Taking one step at a time helps you stay focused. It makes it easier to manage temptation, track your progress, and keep things positive and rewarding.
Be ready: Triggers and cravings
Cravings can be triggered by events, places, or even people. Many people find that when changing the way they eat, use tobacco, drink alcohol, or use a drug, there are a lot of triggers. You may find triggers in:
Things you do often.
Places where you eat, drink, or otherwise spend time with others.
Times when you feel bored or stressed.
Mindless times, like when you’re watching TV, using a computer, or driving.
Use of another substance, like alcohol or tobacco.
Other people who have the same habit or behavior.
To help fight physical cravings, plan ahead.
If you’re changing the way you eat or smoke, be prepared for cravings for certain foods, like sugars or carbs. Keep simple, healthier snacks or gum on hand that will help you get past the cravings.
If you think you’ll have tobacco, drug, or alcohol cravings, talk to your doctor about medicine or other treatment that can help improve your chances of success. For example, medicine for quitting smoking can help with cravings and stress and can double your chances of quitting smoking.footnote 1
Be ready to delay acting on impulse when a craving hits.
Don’t pressure yourself with, “I must resist.” It might be easier to say, “I’m putting it off for later.”
Find ways to distract yourself. Go for a walk, watch something onscreen, or keep yourself busy with a complex or repetitive task.
You can learn to cope with cravings. Each success you have with resisting a craving makes it easier next time. Over time, cravings get weaker and go away.
For some people, it can be helpful to remember that every day is a new day to be ready. To stay ahead of triggers and cravings, keep these questions in mind:
In my daily routine, what things can trigger the behavior I want to change? How can I be ready for these triggers? Make a mental or written note of solutions for your biggest triggers.
What can I change in my daily routine to help me avoid or resist these triggers? Make a list of times in the last week that you felt a craving. Where were you? What were you doing, and who were you with?
Will it help me to spend less time with people who might trigger the behavior? What about people who don’t trigger the behavior?
What will I plan to do instead of giving in to a craving? Plan for how to cope next time.
Tracking your progress may be something you naturally do. Or it may feel strange or like you’re putting pressure on yourself. But many people who have made successful changes have found that tracking works. Looking at a record of your progress can really help you stay focused on and working toward your goals.
To track how you’re doing with your plan, write down a quick daily note, keep a daily calendar, or use an online or mobile tracking tool. Use whatever works for you. It doesn’t take long to see what’s going well and what slip-ups you can learn from.
Changing your behavior can be a tough process, and each small success deserves credit.
Reward yourself for meeting your goals, even the small ones. What would be rewarding for you? What celebrates your better, healthier life-extra time to yourself, a movie or show, or something you’ve been wanting?
If you don’t meet a goal, don’t punish yourself. Just back up and start where you left off. If it helps, use this time to make small changes to your plan. Think about how you can better handle things next time. And make sure you include ways to reward yourself when you do well.
Enjoy your life
Along with feeling satisfied that you’re making a change that matters, you may have other, mixed feelings. If you’re stopping something or doing less of it, it’s normal to also feel a sense of loss. To help with this, fill your time with things that make you feel good. Spend time with people you enjoy, return to an old hobby, or try something new. Ask yourself:
What do I love to do?
What have I always wanted to try?
That new life you imagined? It’s in sight. See yourself getting past the temptations and cravings, rather than giving in to them. It may take practice, but you can do it. Just give it time.