Ditch it, starting today.
Bad habits are called bad habits for a reason. They typically have destructive effects on our physical and mental wellbeing.
From mindlessly binge-eating junk food in front of the TV, to smoking, and putting ourselves down, whatever your negative vice is, studies have shown willpower alone is very unlikely to spontaneously rid you of your negative habitual behavior.
And most common advice – things like ‘Just think positive’ and ‘Ask yourself if you really need it’ – also tends to miss the point. Habits are ingrained behaviors that become like an autopilot setting in our brains; the idea that we can simply talk ourselves out of them is fundamentally flawed. So, what does work then? You might be surprised to find much more success using these lesser-known alternatives for kicking that bad habit to the curb for good…
1. Increase your awareness
Psychologist and The Habit Change Workbook: How To Break Bad Habits and Form Good Ones author, James Claiborn says becoming hyper-aware of your urge to partake in your habit, rather than attempting to ignore it, is the most effective strategy for breaking an addiction. “It may take the form of making a checklist to find out how often you’re doing things and under what circumstances you’re doing them. We need to understand the behavior before we can change it effectively.”
2. Surround yourself with eagles
There’s an age-old saying, “It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you’re surrounded by turkeys”, and in fact, research suggests we are more inclined to participate in a bad habit when our social group does it. So start surrounding yourself with more ‘eagles’ – people who will motivate you yo do better. If you forego exercise to binge eat with your friends, join a fitness community online and start spending time hanging out with people with the same goal as you.
3. Give it 30 days
Most experts agree you can break just about any habit by simply committing to abstaining from it for 30 days. So rather than getting overwhelmed at the prospect of giving your habit up forever, just commit to foregoing it for one month, then reassess at the end of that period and commit to another 30 days.
4. Swap the habit for a new one
Giving up an action we’ve become habitually accustomed to doing is a hell of a lot more difficult when we’re left with a big gaping void where that action used to be. So instead of giving up cold turkey, experts recommend creating a new – but more productive – habit to replace the negative one. For example, if you always eat chips while watching TV, replace it with chewing sugar-free gum, so your mouth’s still kept busy.
5. Change your environment
The key to success when it comes to steering clear of a bad habit, is making it as difficult as possible for yourself to partake in it. That means changing up your environment. “If you don’t want to check your cell phone that often, shut it off. If you don’t want to use it while you’re driving, put it in the glove compartment,” University of Texas professor of psychology and Smart Change: Five Tools to Create Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others author, Art Markman says.
6. Stop permission-giving
When we’re drawn to habitually participate in a particular behavior, we tend to give ourselves excuses to rationalize what we’re doing. Thoughts like ‘It’s only one more time, it won’t hurt’, and ‘I’ve had a really hard day, so it’s okay if I do it today’ only work to sabotage our chances of habit-breaking success. “People can make some important steps if they look at those ‘permission-giving’ thoughts pretty carefully, spend some time writing them out and thinking about alternatives,” says Claiborn.
7. Think of the worst
In a society obsessed with happiness and positive thinking, it would seem counterintuitive to conquer a bad habit by thinking negatively, but that’s exactly what you need to do, says Markman. “Figure out all of the things that can go wrong, and use those as guideposts for the things you need to be prepared for as you embark on the process of making change. Because a lot of obstacles are very real.”
Image via boom.
Comment: What techniques have helped you successfully conquer a bad habit?
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