How To Change Harmful Behavior

While starting good habits isn’t easy for any athlete, changing harmful behavior is much more difficult. That’s because bad habits are often hardwired into our brains, so whenever we quit them, they need to be …

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While starting good habits isn’t easy for any athlete, changing harmful behavior is much more difficult. That’s because bad habits are often hardwired into our brains, so whenever we quit them, they need to be replaced with something positive that improve our performance. For decades, behavioral therapists have been researching ways to eliminate maladaptive behaviors in athletes and replace them with adaptive alternatives.

There can be various reasons for your behavior, like a disorder or a habit that was reinforced and enabled over the years. If you think that a mental disorder is the cause of your behavioral concerns, it’s best to contact URP for better behavioral health treatment. That being said, there are ways to change harmful behaviors on your own. Here’s how you can narrow down the habit or behavior you’d like to change and effectively replace it with something else.

Make a List of Behaviors

Let’s start with the basics: knowing which behaviors you want to change. After all, acknowledging that there’s something wrong is often the first step towards positive change. The good news is that many of us already do this little exercise – we set goals and make New Year’s resolutions. It can range from eating fewer processed foods to considering how our actions affect others.

If you haven’t already, this is a good place to start. Keep in mind that writing down the things you want to change isn’t meant to bring shame. Rather, it’s supposed to build awareness of the behaviors you want to replace to improve your athletic performance.

Learn What Causes It

The next step is to know what causes your behavior. Every bad habit has a trigger, and a cue can be either internal or external. Perhaps the stress of an upcoming match increases your soda intake, or the excitement of reaching the finals affects your focus and how well you train.  Or maybe the frustration of a tense match causes you to lash out at teammates.

Not sure what’s causing your behavior? Cognitive behavioral therapists recommend monitoring your actions and thoughts to narrow down what goes on in your head before you engage in maladaptive behaviors that impact your performance. Knowing your cues allows you to understand why the behavior occurs – something that’s crucial when trying to change your habits. Of course, it’s hard to keep track of your thoughts during a touch training session, but it helps to ask your teammates or coaches for feedback. They can give you insight as to which specific trigger causes you to make an incorrect play or behavior.

Switch Old Behaviors For New Ones

Once you’ve stopped engaging in the harmful behavior, you need to replace it with something adaptive. Keep in mind that it’s not enough to just drop a bad habit; to avoid picking it up again, you need to switch it for something new. In fact, replacing the harmful behavior with positive ones can bring a similar effect without the physical and mental concerns of engaging in the undesirable habit.

Let’s suppose your current technique in a sport is affecting overall performance. In this case, practicing the new behavior in a controlled environment helps imprint the right technique. A controlled environment is a setting where you can’t make incorrect movements, like an empty basketball court or football field. Moreover, have your coach implement time out practices for harmful behaviors. By removing you from the field, they avoid reinforcing incorrect behavior.

Keep Things Simple

In most cases, changing an unhealthy behavior is difficult because it comes to us so easily – it almost feels automatic. Similarly, it’s difficult to continue new behaviors because your basal ganglia, the part of your brain that helps you function on autopilot, hasn’t adapted to the new habit.

A good way to get your brain used to the new actions is to simplify them by breaking them down into parts. Whether you play football or basketball, with a team or go solo, all sports require complex plays and movements for effective performance. You need to break down these movements into small behavior sequences so that you perform them better.

Stay Consistent

Initially, there may be times when you slip up and fail to master the behavior required. In these situations, your coach can punish these instances by calling a time out. Similarly, they can reinforce the times you successfully perform the behavior correctly with praise and immediate recognition of proper movements. This consistent reinforcement and punishment allows you to repeatedly perform the behavior.

Stay Motivated With Positive Feedback

Perhaps the most effective way to stay on track is to reward your successful attempts at your new behavior. In this case, it helps to have a coach or personal trainer by your side. They can provide praise and helpful feedback that allows you to reach peak performance.

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