I’m going to start this off with some bad news, you are not perfect. But guess what? I’m not perfect either! Nobody is. We all have our flaws, our short-comings and ah yes, our bad habits. When we ask ourselves what our bad habits are, the answers usually come to mind right away.
We all know what we should be doing, for me it consumes a lot of my thoughts throughout the day. I’m very self-aware about my bad habits but I can’t seem to break them. It turns out there is a lot more to breaking a bad habit than just being aware of them. Let’s look deeper into bad habits.
Why Do We Have Bad Habits?
We clearly know what our bad habits are, but why do we keep doing something, over and over, if we know it is inherently bad for us? Well, every time we act on a bad habit there is a reward to it. Why do you smoke? Stress relief.
Why do we eat junk food that is bad for us? It tastes great! Why do you sleep in after you promised yourself to get up early the next day? Our bed feels so comfortable! You get the idea. Bad habits feel good.
Creating awareness of why we keep acting on things that are actually bad for us is a great start to working on eliminating the habit. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, every habit has three parts to it:
- The cue – A certain emotion, time of day or place that triggers the habit
- The routine – performing the habit
- The reward – the satisfying feeling of performing the bad habit
Identify The Habit
The first task is to narrow down exactly what you want to change, selecting a handful of habits to break at the same time is futile. Don’t put too much thought into it, just gauge what you feel impacts you the most. It may be smoking or dieting or something else, just narrow it down to something you’ve always wanted to change.
Once you have identified exactly what you want to change, start to look at what sparks you to act on this poor behavior. Map out the actions that usually take place before you act on the habit. Can anything be done to prevent you from taking those usual actions?
Find what can trigger the habit in order to begin formulating a strategy against it. Some triggers can’t be avoided. Many people are triggered to smoke a cigarette whenever they enter their car. Clearly you can’t just stop driving to work to quit smoking.
Get creative though, when I had to quit chewing tobacco, I found my triggers and to replace the act of sticking chew in my mouth, I had these hard cinnamon candies I would pop in my mouth. It took care of the oral fixation and after the first 30 seconds of craving the tobacco, the craving completely went away.
Replacing The Habit
I remember being in my intensive outpatient program when I was in early recovery (I am now 5 years sober) and was complaining about all of these bad habits I had and I had no idea what to do about it, they would just not go away.
Someone gave me the most profound but simple response. They told me that I not only need to get rid of those habits, I need to replace them too. How I never thought of it like that beforehand I will never understand but it was a revelation for me.
So not only would I have to quit eating junk food, I’d have to come up with a complete plan to replace eating junk food all the time. Previously I would just acknowledge my bad habits but somehow wouldn’t come up with a game plan to defeat them. For my terrible junk food habit I would make sure to go to the grocery store on Sundays and buy a lot of healthy, whole foods. If I packed my house with those type of foods I would be much less inclined to spend money on junk food and waste all the pricey health food I had bought.
Whatever your habit may be, come up with a complete game plan to begin a new habit. As mentioned before, we have bad habits because they are beneficial to us, the best way to counteract these terrible habits is to come up with a new one that is also beneficial and ultimately better for us.
Perhaps the hardest part of getting rid of habits is trying to do it ourselves. I don’t know about you but when I hold myself accountable it usually does not end up well. Find a good friend or even better someone that lives with you and make it clear what your intentions are and how they can help you! There is something about letting someone else know that makes the attempt at changing a little more valid. Allow whoever that person is to call you out if you are heading towards a trigger or getting back into the habit!
Bad habits are selfishly helpful to us in certain ways, that’s why we keep doing them and allowing them to happen. If we look at the big picture however, we can look at how eating healthier or quitting smoking is much more beneficial in the big picture. After reading this, narrow down just one habit you want to replace and start acting on it! Practice makes perfect.
Photo from pixabay – creative commons
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