At any given time, everyone is trying to break at least one bad habit.
Bad habits sap our confidence, time, and energy and keep us from living our healthiest, most productive, and happiest lives.
Before You Start Breaking Your Bad Habits. . .
I’ll be straight with you—jumping into this whole-hog is a recipe for disaster. Human brains are primitively hard-wired to seek rewards, which makes changing habits time-consuming and difficult.
If you’re going to do this, do it right.
- Clarify your bad habit. What habit do you want to break? Think about it seriously. Regularly remind yourself about it. Then, ask yourself why you want to change it. What are you losing out on now? What do you stand to gain?
- Write it down. Journal or make notes about your bad habit. Pay special attention to the triggers and context that accompany it.
How to Break Bad Habits
1 Get Your Mind Right
Stop thinking of yourself as a practitioner of your particular bad habit. Marie Forleo recommends changing your inner dialogue from “I can’t” to “I don’t” as a powerful starting point.
2 Give Yourself Time
On average, it takes sixty-six days to change a habit, and there is a lot of variance. It’s a commitment. Consequently, some experts recommend taking a month to reflect on a bad habit before making a change.
Itching to start? Do a test run. Drop the habit for a week, then review to iron out the kinks.
3 Take Small Steps
Make every step as simple as possible. Jenny C. Evans, author of The Resiliency rEvolution advises making changes so minute that they remain undetectable by the primitive brain and do not trigger a stress response. So, if you want to quit smoking, cut back how much you smoke daily instead of going cold turkey.
4 Build in Accountability
Make new habit-formation a team effort by involving friends—it’s easier and more motivating than going solo. Remain accountable to yourself by setting reminders. Trying to eat better? Set daily reminders to order a side salad instead of fries. If you need something more compelling, bet money on it with 21habit and have your investment keep you honest.
5 Strengthen Your Willpower
Avoiding relapse is impossible without self-control. Willpower is a muscle you can strengthen with simple tips, like changing your environment (the out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach) or creating an If-Then Plan.
6 Make Alternatives Concrete
Often you’re not only stopping a bad habit, but also trying to replace it with something better. The Simple List Method is ideal for this situation. Basically, list the behavior you want to see and a corresponding concrete action, e.g., Listen better → Don’t bring a phone to meetings.
7 Associate Bad Habits with Something Negative
Break the magical hold of a bad habit by focusing on why it’s awful. Being mindful is surprisingly good at helping you with that. Imagine practicing mindful smoking or mindful procrastination. It’s naturally unappealing—exactly what you’re after!
8 Track Progress and Analyze It
Whether you journal or keep a table of success like the Simple List Method, it’s important to track progress, reflect periodically, and find patterns. Analyzing your results helps you understand if you fall off the wagon on certain days or in certain contexts. This knowledge will inform your habit-breaking approach moving forward.