How to break unwanted habits and stick to them.
We all have unwanted habits, but some are more disruptive than others. Some of us even recognize and try to overcome our unwanted habits but find that we quickly revert to our old ways, often to a greater extreme.
If you find that you have a bad habit or two (or more…) that keeps you from living up to your potential, then it’s time to embrace how to overcome your unwanted habits without relapsing. No unwanted habit should keep you from living up to your potential.
How to break a bad habit
The first step to changing a bad habit is to end the bad habit. This is a multi-faceted process that often correlates with preventing relapse, but many of the components are distinct and require a certain focus to overcome your bad habit.
- First, be honest that you have a bad habit. If you haven’t noticed the effects of your bad habit, then someone else will surely inform you at some point. Whether it’s leaving your dirty laundry in a pile in your room or constantly texting when in the company of others, we often pretend like we don’t have a bad habit until it creates a conflict.
- If you’re not lucky enough to be preemptive and recognize what can be a bad habit, then at least be honest enough with yourself to recognize when you have a problem.
- Next, use visualization to practice ending the habit and identifying preferable behavior.
- If you’re not lucky enough to have someone tell you a constructive alternative (in friendly or unfriendly terms), then it’s up to you to identify what you need to do instead.
- Some habits, such as biting your fingernails or smoking, are beneficial to just stop, while others, such as drinking or unhealthy snacking, require alternative habits. When you visualize yourself encountering situations in the future that may elicit the bad habit, you can then visualize avoiding engaging in this habit as well as engaging in the preferred alternatives.
- We can’t always spend our days lost in an imaginary world where we avoid our bad habits, nor can we avoid scenarios where temptation may arise. However, we can include reminders to help us remember how we don’t want to act and how we want to act instead.
- Let’s say you get stressed very easily at work, which then leads you to rage at your co-workers and takes a toll on your heart health. You can use post-it notes or even a timer (or app!) on your phone to take a break every 45 minutes to an hour, stop what you’re doing, and take a few deep breaths.
- This can help you to physically calm down as well as mentally take stock of the situation so that you aren’t feeling overwhelmed and taking your anger out on other people. Physical reminders create a visual distraction that helps us to channel our energy to more constructive alternatives.
- Replace a bad habit with a good one. With just about every bad habit we have, there is a healthy alternative. Even habits that seem to only require stopping the habit, such as smoking, can be replaced with a healthy alternative.
- For example, instead of going outside to smoke a cigarette, you can make a loop around your office building or even grab a cup of coffee if a cafe is nearby (and you have time). Have a hard time going to bed on time and can’t break away from your electronics?
- Trade half an hour of screen time for reading a book. When you replace a bad habit with an enjoyable alternative, you begin to create an incentive to act with the good habits in mind.
How to replace a bad habit
You’ve managed to confront your old ways, identify an alternative and begin to replace your bad habit. Temptation always lurks, though, and you find yourself either constantly being reminded of your bad habit, occasionally indulging or mindlessly detouring to what you used to do.
The following techniques can help you to stay on track once you’ve broken your bad habit.
- Use micro-goals. Micro goals are typically used when trying to accomplish a larger goal or ambition, particularly in the athletic and professional worlds. However, micro-goals are equally effective when what you wish to achieve is to replace a bad habit with a good one.
- For example, if you want to exercise more, rather than say “I want to run a marathon”, you can begin by walking for 15 minutes a day 3 times a week. Once you do this for a few weeks, you can progress to doubling the duration of the walk and adding another day, gradually increasing your exercise time and intensity.
- By using micro-goals, you give yourself a more manageable goal to focus on that can allow you to feel more accomplished than if you focus on a larger and generally less realistic goal when you are trying to reform a bad habit.
- Provide incentives when you make progress. While incentives can vary in influence depending on what you are trying to achieve and what the incentive is, the general consensus is that providing an incentive provides an immediate reward on the path to achieving your overall goal of breaking and avoiding your bad habit.
- Incentives are often tied with micro-goals to make the path to achieving habit transformation more manageable to maintain motivation along the way.
- For example, if you find yourself constantly being distracted by your phone while you are trying to complete work or an assignment, give yourself a specific period of time, for example, 45 minutes, to do your work followed by a 5-10 minute break where you check your phone can give you a temporary “fix” while you transition to a healthier habit.
- In many instances, using incentives can simply delay the gratification of breaking the habit so that, after time, you lose interest in the incentives and find satisfaction in the new habit!
- Join a community and/or share your progress. Chances are, you’re not the only one with whatever habit you wish to replace. That’s why there are a variety of communities, ranging from Substance Abuse recovery to Exercise groups to meditation groups that are geared towards replacing and developing healthier habits.
- Joining a community can provide motivation as you replace your habit as well as tips and tricks others have if you encounter obstacles. Ultimately, sharing your progress creates transparency that you are trying to change while also generating support and encouragement from those around you to keep going.
- Seek help and treat an underlying cause and have compassion. Although we like to vilify our bad habits as these bad things that we do and wish we didn’t, there is often an underlying cause for why we have these bad habits and which keeps us from progressing if we are trying to replace them.
- For example, depression can lead some to drink, anxiety can lead many to overeat, and disappointment or a lack of motivation can lead some to engage in less productive activities when attempting to work (such as computer games!).
- While many may recognize the impacts of these bad habits, they may not recognize that there is an underlying cause motivating them, so that when they try to stop the bad habit, the cause persists and leads to a relapse.
- In such cases, whether within a community or through private consultation, confronting the root emotional cause of the bad habit can yield improved results as far as the rate and ease with which one transition to more constructive habits.
Ultimately, when it comes to breaking and replacing bad habits, self-compassion and a willingness to accept the path of personal growth are integral to staying on track and replacing your bad habits with good ones.
Change doesn’t come overnight, but with enough time you will find yourself having made tremendous progress. The above considerations are just some of many that can help you to free yourself from bad habits on the way to a healthier, new you.