Have you found that it’s incredibly tough to break a bad habit? Maybe you already tried it several times and then just gave up once and for all.
A bad habit is created the same way as a good habit — through repetition. With repetition, we become masters in anything we consistently do. If you want to play the piano, you repeatedly exercise to improve your fingering to play the next challenging piano piece. If you’re going to run a marathon, you go out and run multiple times a week so you can increase distance and speed. The more you practice, the more your new pattern will subconsciously solidify. Your brain’s interconnected neurons shape a strong cluster that strengthens and memorize your repetitive motion. Your brain applies this to good habits, as well as bad habits.
Your strong neural clusters within your brain keep your habit in play. For instance, imagine you stopped riding a bike for years, then you get back on a bike, and you’re still perfectly able to ride it. Your goal is to become aware of the pattern that keeps the bad habit in place and replace it with a more supportive practice. You want to resolve the triggers and root causes of your bad habit.
The following steps are useful for creating a new set of habits.
Become aware of your bad habit.
You can’t make a conscious change if you aren’t aware of what you want to change. When you become aware, you will start to notice what triggers your bad habit. The problem we face is an unconscious impulse. We don’t think about it and get into a rhythm to not think about it. The goal is to break this unconscious rhythm. The moment you become aware is the chance to break free of it. Try this:
- Pay attention throughout the day and make a list of your unsupportive habits. Write them down. Notice a trigger that seems connected to your bad habit. For instance, whenever you sleep past your alarm, you have to rush to make your meeting. Notice the moments you fall into your bad habit and notice what conditions trigger it.
- Ask your spouse, friend, or colleague to remind you when they notice your bad habit. It might take some courage to ask them to give you honest feedback, but it’s powerful.
Interrupt your bad habit and take small steps.
Now that you are aware of the habit and what seems to trigger it, you will be better able to handle it. The goal of interrupting your routine is to increase the space between awareness and execution. Try making it challenging to fall into your bad habit. For instance, place your alarm away from your reach, so you have to get out of bed to shut it off. But don’t over-pressure yourself. You might think of quitting cold turkey, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Take one bad habit at a time and remember that a little progress will make a massive difference in the long term.\
Replace your bad habit with a good one.
It’s essential to replace your habit with a healthier one. Replacing a pattern with something better takes less mental effort than it takes to completely eliminate it. When you noticed the trigger of your bad habit, that habit is your coping mechanism for underlying tension, stress, or boredom. You still need to relieve the need, but find a healthier way to handle it. To replace the habit, you need to find one that still enables you to deal with stress in a more supportive way. Try this instead:
- Instead of eating candy, replace it with fruit.
- Move the TV remote to another room and keep an interesting book at hand, where you’ll more likely reach for it.
Remove the underlying reason for your bad habit.
If you want to sustain your healthy habit, you can add tiny daily changes to your routine. Make these satisfying, so you are practicing them consistently. These small, consistent daily actions may not seem to make a difference in the short-term, but they may have a tremendous impact in the long run. Try this:
- If you are bored, find new meaningful goals. Plan and pursue your aspirations. Learn the skills you’d love to master.
- If you are stressed, take up a yoga or mindfulness practice that lifts your spirit and calms your negative inner voice.
Take tiny consistent steps. Value your perseverance and consistency.
Ask someone to become your “accountability buddy.”
Ask a friend, colleague, or family member for help in holding you accountable for the commitment you’ve made. By checking in with each other regularly, an accountability buddy’s role is to provide support, feedback, and encouragement along the way. All you need is 30 days before you close it down with a discussion of how it went. Review what worked well for you and what you noticed that didn’t, so you can better sustain your commitment toward the healthy habit. Some helpful tips…
- Choose someone who won’t be judgmental! You want them to encourage you, not annoy you.