“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
— Will Durant
How many times have you tried to break a bad habit? Several? Every January 1st? Every darn day?
I’m with you. I don’t know HOW many times I’ve tried to…
- Get my butt off the sofa and stop wasting time Netflixing
- Quit eating chocolate
- Stop biting my nails
- Thinking low of myself when I should do the opposite
- Procrastinating when I know exactly what I need to do
So, what exactly is a habit?
The official definition goes as follows:
“An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”
Interesting choice of words there, Merriam Webster Dictionary – involuntary.
The truth is that habits are what we do without even giving them an ounce of thought. We do them on auto-pilot and they define who we are (oh, yes they do!). Bad habits kill productivity, creativity and stop us from moving forward to achieve our goals in life.
In other words, they really suck.
Why is it so hard to stop? People (or the Internet) generally say that it takes 21 days (cold turkey) to break a habit.
I beg to differ. We need to dig deeper and get to the root cause.
A habit is something we’ve done repeatedly over time and have grown into. The habitual activity feels safe, nostalgic, familiar. It’s hard to suddenly stop something you’ve been doing your whole life. Even if you know that, deep down, the habit could very well harm your life over time.
The short-term reward is never the way to go. You feel GREAT for a few seconds then instantly regret your actions. I’ve been there, done that – all the time.
Think of the long-term reward of for example exercising, having a healthy (and hot) body and NOT smoking.
Ah, the dream.
I’m going to break this down into several steps, but all it really comes down to is your brain and your beliefs about yourself.
It’s crazy how much (if not ALL) of our actions are directly tied to the thoughts and beliefs we repeat over and over again in our minds.
This is because your brain is where it all starts.
Let’s kill our bad habits, once and for all – shall we?
- RELATED: Why Failing Is A Good Thing If You Want To Live Your Dream Life
- RELATED: 51 Positive And Healthy Habits For An Amazing Life
STEP 1 – ACKNOWLEDGE THE BAD HABIT
I see you, bad habit, now go away.
Seeing your bad habit eye to eye is the very first step in order to break it.
Acknowledge your bad habits, write them down on a piece of paper and physically throw the paper in the trash, and at the same time throw out your mental trash. This will help start the “I quit” process. You know what it is you’re doing you don’t want to do anymore (did that make sense?).
It can be a good idea to write down the bad side effects of your habit too. However, don’t give it to the garbage men. Keep it, hang it on your fridge or mirror as a reminder as to why you need to stop your bad habit, or else…
This works wonders for me.
Scenario: I wish to stop smoking
Side effects: (do I really need to list these?)
- Lung cancer
- Bad breath
- Smelly fingertips
- The added expense $$$
- More wrinkles (premature aging)
- Generally bad for your health and others
Scenario: I want to be more healthy by eating well and going to the gym
- Extra plumpiness around your belly, hips or wherever Mr. Fat wants to set up camp
- Laying on your couch all day feeling sorry for yourself
- Tired all the time
- Dry, flaky skin
- etc etc
Be aware of your habits and the side effects that come with them.
Also, take notice of the following:
- What triggers your bad habit? Is it emotional caused by stress or anxiety? During what times of the day are you most prone to your bad habit?
- In what environment does your bad habit thrive? In front of the TV? At the local bar? In your warm bed? Where are you and your bad habit usually hanging out?
- What is the reward you get from your bad habit?
Start by saying hello to your bad habit and then telling it politely to please go away now.
STEP 2 – Understanding your mind
Your brain loves you. It always has. It loves to protect you, to keep you out of harm’s way and to keep you tucked in safely in your comfort zone.
Your brain would rather not get into a new activity, do something it’s never done, let alone STOP doing something it’s been doing for a long time.
It’ll be all like.. “What the heck is going on here? No, we have to get back to basics, to our safe spot. And that fast. “
It’s hard for your brain to stop a routine it’s become so good at.
All it really wants is for you to be alive, safe and sound.
Understanding how your brain works is key. Hopefully, it will help you to go head to head with your mind, pursue a new direction and learn to break FREE from your old ways.
It can be hard to talk your brain into starting something brand new. At least in the beginning. Put your brain on flight mode and on silent while you work on your new and improved you.
It’s the only way.
Quiet the chatter and go for it.
Accept the fact that your brain isn’t on your team right now. It will catch up later, I promise you. But for now, you’re flying solo with your new and awesome habit until your brain finally catches up to you and starts being a team player again.
- RELATED: Why You Should Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone Every Day
- RELATED: 10 Thoughts You Should Never Ever Think And Why
STEP 3 – Replace the bad with the good
In order to break a bad habit, we need to replace it with an AMAZING one – or multiple good ones.
It may be easier to start with just one if you are really struggling to tackle your old repetitive patterns.
Start with one new habit and go slow. Take it day by day.
This will keep you focused and committed.
Let’s go back and review your bad habit trigger.
What is your main trigger?
You are most likely getting it on with your bad habit because of the reward you (or your brain) gets from it.
- Yum! The sweet sugar rush from a chocolate bar
- Oh, the wonderful feeling from smoking a filthy cigarette
- Oh, how I love to roll back under my warm sheets instead of going to my morning yoga class
- The thrill of biting my nails (really?)
Remember, the wonderful and rewarding feeling will only last for about a few seconds, and so will the moments when you experience cravings.
Is it worth it?
Drop the sugar, the cigarettes and go to the gym!
Instead, try and distract yourself for a minute or two. Make some green tea, take a walk or work on your blog, and I promise you, the cravings will go away. Bad habits with a dash of pleasure equal horrible cravings and it may feel impossible to break (but it’s obviously very possible).
In order to move past the cravings and uncomfortableness – we need to substitute the bad habit with something AMAZING. Distract yourself with supportive new habits.
- If you are a heavy drinker and wish to cut back on alcohol, go for a virgin mojito at the party or alcohol-free beer
- Grab some delicious fruits instead of the sugary candy bar (a moment on the lips, forever on the hips!)
- Put on bitter nail polish to drive your fingernail-lovin’ teeth away
- When you are frustrated and feel the need to lash out, take a few deep breaths, meditate and practice your positive mindset
I know, I know – this is going to be HARD in the beginning.
Fear not, your brain will eventually get back in tune with you and your new good habit will become your routine soon enough.
Be persistent! I know you have the (will)power.
If you need to, take another glance at the piece of paper with the bad side effects written on it, and think of the VERY short reward period of your bad habits versus the amazing long-term effects of your new and improved habits.
In order to stick with it, you need a plan…
STEP 4 – Have a plan and be specific
“Ah, I need a new habit. I think I’ll go with the following, they seem good.”
- Get in shape
- Be kind to my husband
- Become a better person
Hm, no. Don’t get me wrong, the habits above are GREAT, but they are too vague.
You’re more likely to attain the above if you get down and specific. Be as detailed as you possibly can.
What exactly will you do in order to make the good habits listed above a routine in your life?
Break them down into smaller actionable habits that you can do every day.
- Get in shape
- Wake up at 5:30 AM and go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday and Friday
- Sign up for Yoga class every Sunday
- Eat my greens and colorful food
- Soda and candy is for on the weekends only, no excuses
- Be kind to my husband
- Implement date night every Friday evening
- Compliment and kiss him every day!
- Become a better person
.. are you with me? These are just some examples, but you catch my drift.
When you have successfully broken down your amazing new habits, you can start planning and plotting the new activities on your calendar.
It will steer you in the right direction and will also help to avoid any possible upcoming negotiations with your bad habit and dodge temptations.
Should a temptation appear, you have a crystal clear plan (you are determined and committed, stay strong!) and you can stay in the clear on the guilt-free side of town.
Having clarity and a solid plan will help to teach your brain to catch up and get it used to your new amazing way of living.
“Brain, this is the way we are living now. Get used to it.”
Keep going, get into your new and improved routine every single day and voila – your new routine will magically turn into your new habit.
Prepare for old habits to lurk their way back, that’s when you swoop in with your new awesome habit instead.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
STEP 5 – Habit Tracker is your friend
To keep track of your amazing new habits, you need to track your progress. Every day. Yes, every day.
This is easily done by using a daily habit tracker.
STEP 6 – GET SUPPORT
One final and important detail.
Your life will become so much easier if you share your struggles with the people around you.
They can offer support and make things a little easier on you. And they will, for example, most likely NOT shove a beer/chocolate-bar in your face because they know what you are going through and what it is you wish to accomplish.
Having support can boost your motivation and it doesn’t hurt to have loving people who understand around you.
If you’re struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, or something else that can take a serious toll on your life, please go to a professional and seek help.
BEFORE YOU GO
I wish you the best of luck with tackling your bad habits and on your way to create an amazing life for yourself.
I wonder how many times I’ve typed “habits” in this post.
Go kick some butt! I believe in you.