Every person has that one thing s/he can’t help but do, even if s/he knows better, and when bad habits gain strength, they die hard. Whether it’s a temper, procrastinating, or lying, bad habits ruin progress you could be making otherwise. While I am close to perfect, I admit I have a terrible habit of relentlessly focusing on small, negligible details. When something is not where or how it should be, I can’t think of anything else except fixing it, even if it’s something like the placement of a pillow or the parallel space between my keyboard and the desk edge. A little OCD? Perhaps. While it may or may not be categorized as “bad”, it still inhibits me from moving on to another task. And that’s a trademark feature of a bad habit: it inhibits, be it immediately or in the long run. Take a moment to think of something you do that actually does more harm than good, make a mental note of them, and read on for tips on breaking bad habits and establishing new healthy ones.
It seems simple enough, but commiting yourself to doing something different than what you’ve always done can be discouraging or downright challenging. Though bad habits manifest almost as impulses, developing a strategy is the initial step in creating healthy habits. Think about what you want to change, then break down a typical scenario when it occurs: what triggers the bad habit? How often does it happen? What results are you striving for instead? Imagine yourself adopting the new habit and being in a more positive state, then jot down specific steps that it will take for you to get there every time. Remember to start simple or you risk becoming overwhelmed right at the forefront.
Sticking to your plan might be your biggest hurdle in breaking habits, but breaking down your schedule to accomodate it helps to introduce and reinforce it into your routine. However, a new habit won’t be established if it doesn’t happen often enough, and enough would be something like every day. Even if your habit doesn’t occur that often, the percentage that you’re replacing with a good habit when the opportunity arises should be high. Setting reminders for yourself using the Magnetic Dry Erase Board and weekly planner featured in our previous blog on New Year’s resolutions is a very visible way to keep yourself on track.
Be mindful of triggers or motivations that encourage bad habits, and try to eliminate or displace them. This might require that you change your surroundings and some people you might associate with. When the trigger for bad habits is gone, it will be easier to rid bad habits and replace with fresh, planned triggers in place. These should allow an easy transition into the good habit(s) you want. When I notice that something is slightly out of place, for example, I have to choose not to answer the urge to obsess over it, so I remove myself from the situation (or room): out of sight, out of mind. My positive habit is being more productive with other things, and the trigger that this will follow from is as simple as a thought: it doesn’t matter.
Of course, you’re aware that there are disadvantages to some habit or you wouldn’t have labeled it “bad” in the first place. But recognizing the specific consequences of retaining a bad habit and the benefits of engaging a good habit help reinforce your plan. This might require more than just a mental reminder; writing them down, finding books or materials to support your strategy, or discussing both sides with someone who supports you will help you realize why you’re doing what you’re doing.
You’re not perfect (obviously), so accepting the possibility (and maybe the likelihood) of falling off the wagon every once in a while is actually a healthy thing. Instead of punishing yourself, take the opportunity to consider what went wrong. Was there a flaw in your strategy? Is your trigger not prominent or sufficient enough to induce the desired habit? Know that if you’re not moving towards that positive image you had established early on in the process, something needs to change.
Along with realizing you’ll hit some hurdles during your bad habit exodus, it’s also important to add a contingency onto every negative thought. When a bad habit just spills out and you feel you deserve a good facepalm, stop any disappointed thought with “but” and something positive. If I’ve just unnecessarily rearranged my desk, I might comment, “Ugh, this just isn’t working,” and I can add, “but if I just stick to it, I’ll get it.” Ending on a more positive note will help to establish more optimistic thinking and keep you motivated.
Have you noticed you’re getting better at this? Great! Now remember to take the time to recognize and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. Letting yourself feel happy reminds you why you started this whole habit-healthy routine to begin with. Congratulate yourself, not necessarily with a fudge sundae, but with just a mental affirmation: “Yea! I knew I could get this down!” Condition yourself to have your new habit lead to happy thoughts, which lead to joy.
Stick with us, kid, and you’ll be well on your way to a habitual healthy in no time. As for me, I’m working on just softening up a bit, reminding myself that the blanket sticking out from under the mattress really isn’t a big deal. There’s more important things to be done, goals to accomplish, horizons to conquer. Bad habits die hard, but good habits live on like legends.