How Do You Break a Bad Habit?
Habits are difficult to break, and understandably so. They are a part of your identity and help to shape your character.
Habits, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily something outlandish or unusual enough to attract attention. Consider little practices such as scratching your fingertips while you’re stressed or singing songs while driving. There are simply lifelong patterns that you might be unaware of.
Simply think about something unique you do on a regular basis for a few minutes. You’ll note how it’s becoming a pattern without you ever realizing it. From your sleep workout to your snack preferences to your fitness schedules, everything you do on a regular basis is a pattern.
Breaking an existing habit, on the other hand, is a whole different story, and often people confuse the two. For example, Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, discusses an eight-pound weight gain due to a bad cookie habit. Duhigg claims that he found himself running to the fourteenth floor of his office building every day to buy a cookie. When Duhigg started to investigate this pattern, he found that the true payoff for his behavior was the socializing he experienced while nom-nom-nom-ing with colleagues.
Duhigg was able to break his cookie-eating binge by substituting one ritual for another until he realized that the payoff was engaging with peers. That’s it!
Duhigg confirms the widely held theory that the trick to overcoming a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. I’m not convinced. Maybe substituting colleagues for cookies worked for Duhigg, but what if you’re the kind of person (like me) who adores cookies? I was chronically obese due to my love of sweets (among other delectable foods)! Ooey gooey chocolate chewy wins every time for me over talking it up with Mel from accounting.
“Where does that leave me?” inquired a woman in the crowd. After years of struggling with my own weight, there was no way I could look her in the eyes and tell her that the next time she had a sugar addiction, she could talk it through with her colleagues.
Breaking an old habit is not the same as starting a new one.
I discussed a tactic with the women in the crowd that worked wonders for me when it came to getting power of unhealthy habits like consuming food we know isn’t healthy for us or succumbing to distraction. It’s what I term “progressive extremism,” and it fits especially good in circumstances where simply substituting one habit with another won’t suffice.
To use this method, first describe the action you want to avoid doing. Let’s presume you want to cut out refined sugar from your diet. Many people won’t be able to give up processed sweets cold turkey if they want to do so all at once. Instead, choose one sugar-laden food to exclude from your diet and from your life, similar to how a religious practitioner or a vegetarian foregoes treats that some might love. Make your first elimination option something you won’t regret and will exclude from your diet permanently; this is important since altering your diet starts with something tiny and simple to leave.
Unfortunately, most well-intentioned people make the error of chewing off more than they can chew while trying the “I can’t” to “I don’t” transformation (excuse the pun). Do you like candy corn, for instance? I don’t think so. It was still the dregs of my Halloween haul when I was a kid. It was no huge deal for me to give up sweet corn for good, but it was first on my list of things to give up for good. Candy corn is not something I eat, and I never will. That’s it!
By gradually increasing what you don’t do, you build a new reputation based on your track record of effectively eliminating negative habits from your life.
You’re getting too much if the dedication sounds excessive. Each move can sound almost effortless, but have something you’d be proud to give up for the rest of your life. Whether the behaviour is due to what you eat or how you use technology, it doesn’t matter. This method can be used to deal with any diversion that gets in the way of our principles and objectives.
It takes years to unwind bad habits, but I’ve noticed that political extremism is an easy way to avoid activities that aren’t helping me. I take a look at all the unhealthy stuff in my life that no longer have the power to control me the way they used to. And, if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll seek out new negative habits to eliminate by simply refusing to engage in them as part of my new persona. By gradually increasing what you don’t do, you build a new reputation based on your track record of effectively eliminating negative habits from your life.
But, as daunting as it may seem at times, patterns can be modified.
I’m a living example: I’ve changed a slew of behaviors in short, almost infinitesimal increments. Quit smoking, quit binge shopping, paid off debt, started exercising and getting up early and eating healthy and became frugal and simplifying my life and becoming organized, concentrated, and profitable, completed three marathons and a couple of triathlons, started a few good blogs, and paid off my debt… You get the idea.
Just work on one habit at a time. Extremely important. It’s impossible to break a habit, even though it’s just one. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you want to do more than one habit at a time. Keep it straightforward, encourage yourself to concentrate, and you’ll have the best chance of succeeding. By the way, this is why too many New Year’s plans fail: people want to make so many changes at once.
Begin little. Since behaviour reform is daunting, and taking on too much is a prescription for tragedy, the less the better. Do you want to get some exercise? Begin with 5 to 10 minutes. Do you want to get up earlier? For now, try starting 10 minutes earlier. Remember the concept of half-habits.
Maintain a straightforward approach.
It is not difficult to change one’s habits. Although the suggestions below which be daunting, there are only a few items you should be aware of. Anything that is but a means of bringing this to fruition.
The basic steps to changing your habits are as follows:
1. Make a list of your ideas.
2. Recognize the causes and substitution patterns.
3. For about 30 days, focus on doing the substitution habits any time the stimuli occur.
That is what there is to it. In the cheatsheet below, we’ll go through each of these moves in more detail, as well as a lot more.
Make a 30-day challenge for yourself. If you’re concentrated and disciplined, changing a pattern takes about 30 days in my experience. This is an approximate figure that varies from person to person and habit to habit. You’ll also hear of a miraculous “21 days” to break a habit, but this is a fallacy based on no facts. Try to find proof from a research analysis to back this up. According to a more recent report, 66 days is a stronger figure (read more). However, 30 days is a decent starting point. Your task: commit to a new habit for 30 days, and add daily progress reports to a blog.
Make a note of it. Simply stating that you will change your habit is not enough of a promise. It is important for you to write it down on paper. Make a list of the habits you want to break.
Make a policy. Write down a proposal when you’re writing. This will guarantee that you are fully trained. Your motives (motivations) for adapting, challenges, causes, help buddies, and other strategies for making this a success should all be included in the strategy. Below, we’ll go through each of these in more detail.
Be aware of your motives and ensure that they are solid. Make a note of them in your strategy. You must have a good understanding of why you’re doing this, as well as the rewards of doing it. Although doing so for the sake of vanity may be a strong motivator, it is seldom enough. Something more powerful is needed. For the sake of my wife and children, I stopped smoking. I promised them everything. Not only would they be without a husband and father if I didn’t drink, but they’d be more likely to smoke themselves if I didn’t (my wife was a smoker and quit with me).
Find out what makes you tick. What circumstances make you fall into your existing pattern? For example, waking up, eating coffee, drinking beer, busy meetings, going out with friends, driving, and so on could all be reasons for the smoking habit. There are many reasons for most behaviors. Make a list of each one and include it in your strategy.
Identify a constructive pattern you’ll adopt instead of reacting to each stimulus. What would you do instead of smoking when you first get up in the morning? What happens if you’re under a lot of pressure? When you’re out with your mates, what are your favorite things to do? Exercise, yoga, deep breathing, organization, decluttering, and other healthy practices are only a few examples.
Recognize your own self-talk. You speak to yourself all the time in your brain, but most of the time you aren’t sure of it. Begin to pay attention. Any habit shift or aim can be derailed by these feelings. They’re frequently pessimistic: “I’m not capable of doing anything.” This is far too challenging. I’m not sure why I’m putting myself through this. What’s the worse that could happen to me? I’m not strong enough. I don’t have enough self-control. I’m a jerk.” It’s important that you understand what you’re doing.
Get a plan in place to combat the compulsion. The urges will come — they’re unavoidable, and they’ll be powerful. They are, though, transient and defeatable. Urges usually last a minute or two and arrive in waves of varying intensity. What you have to do now is wait out the storm, and the compulsion will pass. Deep meditation, self-massage, eating frozen grapes, taking a stroll, exercising, drinking a bottle of water, calling a comfort friend, and posting on a support page are other tools for getting over the compulsion.
You’re talking about yourself. Make yourself a cheerleader by giving yourself pep talks, repeating the motto (below), and don’t be afraid to seem insane to anyone. When you’ve changed your habit and they’re all lazy, obese slobs, we’ll see who’s mad!
Make a mantra for yourself. My slogan for stopping smoking was “Not One Puff Ever” (which I didn’t make up, but it succeeded — see below). It was “Liberate Yourself” as I decided to leave my day job. This is just a reminder of what you’re attempting to do.
Make use of visualization. This is a strong statement. Visualize effectively altering the habit in your mind. After each cue, visualize yourself doing your new habit, resisting impulses, and what it will be like when you’re done. This can seem to be new-agey, but it really works.
Have incentives. The usual suspects. These can seem to be bribes, but they are simply constructive reviews. Have them in your schedule, as well as the dates when you’ll get them.
Get some relaxation. We are more prone to relapse when we are exhausted. Get plenty of rest so you can battle impulses with muscle.
Make sure you have enough of water. Dehydration, like the item above, puts one at risk of failure. Keep yourself hydrated!
Renew your dedication on a regular basis. Hourly, as well as at the start and end of your day, remind yourself of your engagement. Examine your strategy. Congratulations on your accomplishments. Prepare yourself for a variety of challenges and desires.
To make life a little easier on yourself, avoid certain circumstances where you will usually do your old habit, at least for a while. If you usually drink when you go out with friends, you may want to refrain from doing so for a bit. If you usually smoke outside your office with coworkers, try to stop doing so. This is true with any bad habit — whether it’s eating junk food or doing drugs — there are certain circumstances you can prevent that are more tough for those struggling to break a bad habit. Recognize, though, that when you return to those environments, you will have the same old impulses, and you should be prepared.