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Ditching Our Bad Habits

Bad habits interrupt our lives and diminish our overall well being. They jeopardize our health — both mentally and physically. And they waste our time and energy.

So why do we still do them? And most importantly, is there anything we can do about it?


Causes of bad habits

Most of our bad habits are caused by two things – stress and boredom. For most of us, bad habits are simply a way of overcoming stress and boredom. Everything from watching television to having an alcohol fix or consuming drugs can be a simple response to stress and boredom. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can indulge ourselves with new and healthy ways to deal with stress and boredom, which can then be a substitute of our bad habits. More often than not, the stress or boredom is actually the result of other serious issues that we are not aware of. We need to be honest with ourselves about making changes. These serious issues could be certain beliefs/reasons, fear, past events or a limiting belief that is causing us to hold on to something that is bad for us. Recognizing these issues is crucial to overcoming them. Take time to sit down and reflect all the possible factors that make us stressed out or bored. Then list them down on a piece of paper. It is easier to solve problems that become obvious to us than not knowing what the problems are.


Replacing bad habits with good ones instead of eliminating them

All habits that we have right now — good or bad — are in our lives for a reason. In some way, these behaviors provide a benefit to us, even if they are bad for us in other ways. Sometimes the benefit is biological like it is with smoking or drugs. Sometimes it’s emotional like it is when we stay in a relationship that is not healthy. And in many cases, our bad habit is a simple way to cope with stress. For example, biting our nails, pulling our hair, tapping our foot, or clenching our jaw. These “benefits” or reasons lead to smaller bad habits as well. For example, opening our email inbox as soon as we turn on our computer might make us feel connected. At the same time looking at all of those emails destroys our productivity, divides our attention, and overwhelms us with stress. But, it prevents us from feeling like we are “missing out” … and so we do it again.

Because bad habits give some type of “benefit” in our lives, it is very difficult to simply eliminate them. (This is why simplistic advice like “just stop doing it” rarely works.) Instead, we need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit. For example, if we smoke when we get stressed, then it’s a bad plan to “just stop smoking” when that happens. Instead, we should come up with a different way to deal with stress and replace that with a new habit instead of having a cigarette.

In other words, bad habits address certain needs in our lives. And for that reason, it is better to replace our bad habits with a healthier behavior that addresses that same need. If we expect ourselves to simply remove bad habits without replacing them, then we will have certain needs that will be unmet and it is going to be hard to stick to a routine of “just don’t do it” for very long.

Here are some additional ideas for breaking our bad habits and thinking about the process in a new way.

Find a good substitute for our bad habit : we need to have a plan ahead of time for how we will respond when we face the stress or boredom that prompts our bad habit. What are we going to do when we get the urge to smoke? (Example: breathing exercises instead.) What are we going to do when Facebook or Instagram is calling us to procrastinate? Whatever it is and whatever we are dealing with, we need to have a plan for what we will do instead of simply going back to our bad habit.

Remove triggers as much as possible. If we smoke when we are bored, then we should try to find some activities that we like such as swimming or playing a game of tennis. If we eat donuts when they are in the house, then we should throw them all away. If the first thing we do when we sit on the couch is to pick up the TV remote, then we should hide the remote in a closet in a different room. We should make it easier on ourselves to break bad habits by avoiding the things that cause them in the first place

Change our environment and we can change the outcome.

Join forces with somebody. How often do we try to diet in private? Or maybe we “quit smoking” … but we kept it to ourselves? (That way no one will see us fail, right?)

Instead, we should pair up with someone and quit together. Both of us can hold each other accountable and celebrate our victories together. Knowing that someone else expects us to be better is a powerful motivator.

Mingle with people who live the way we want to live. We don’t need to ditch our old friends, but don’t underestimate the power of finding some new ones.

Visualize ourselves succeeding. See ourselves ditching the cigarettes or buying healthy food or waking up early. Whatever the bad habit we are looking to break, we should visualize ourselves crushing it, smiling, and enjoying our success. See ourselves building a new identity.

Be ourselves. So often we think that to break bad habits, we need to become an entirely new person. The truth is that we already have it in us to be someone without our bad habits. In fact, it’s very unlikely that we had these bad habits all of our lives. We don’t need to quit smoking or drinking, we just need to return to being a non–smoker or non-drinker. We don’t need to transform into a healthy person, we just need to return to being healthy. Even if it was years ago, we have already lived without this bad habit, which means we can most definitely do it again.

Use the word “but” to overcome negative self–talk. One thing about battling bad habits is that it is easy to judge ourselves for not acting better. Every time we slip up or make a mistake, it is easy to tell ourselves how much we suck. 

Whenever that happens, finish the sentence with “but”…

  • “My work is sloppy, but I am working to be more meticulous and detailed.”
  • “I’m ugly and nobody likes me, but I have great musical talents.”
  • “I’m a failure, but everybody fails sometimes.”

Plan for failure. We all slip up every now and then.

So rather than beating ourselves up over a mistake, we should plan for it. We all get off track, what separates top performers from everyone else is that they get back on track very quickly.


Moving forward

If we are looking for the first step to ditching bad habits, we should start with awareness.

It is easy to get caught up in how we feel about your bad habits. We can make ourselves feel guilty or spend our time dreaming about how we wish things were, but these thoughts only take us away from what is actually happening.

Instead, it is awareness and acknowledgement that will show us how to actually make change. Ask ourselves these questions

  • What is the frequency of our bad habits happening?
  • Where are we?
  • Who are we with?
  • What triggers the behavior and causes it to start?

Simply tracking these issues will make us more aware of the behavior and give us dozens of ideas for stopping it.

Here’s a simple way to start: just track how many times per day our bad habit happens. Put a piece of paper and pen in our pocket. Each time our bad habit happens, mark it down on your paper. At the end of the day, count up all of the tally marks and see what our total is.

Initially, our goal should not be to judge ourselves or feel guilty about doing something unhealthy or unproductive. Our goal is to be aware of when it happens and how often it happens. Wrap our heads around the problem by being aware of it. Then, we can start to implement the ideas in this article and break our bad habits.

Breaking bad habits takes time and effort, but mostly it takes perseverance and discipline. Most people who end up breaking bad habits try and fail many times before they make it work. We might not have success right away, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have it at all.

March 23, 2021

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July 13, 2021

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August 18, 2021

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March 2, 2022

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