Got a habit you’d like to get rid of?
Nailbiting? Procrastinating? Okay, I just told you two of my bad habits. Now what about you?
Nobody’s perfect. And our bad habits are certainly proof of our imperfection. Now how do we get rid of them?
To answer that question, let’s first take a look at the purpose that bad habits can serve. Habits can help us cope during times of stress. Overeating or overspending, for example, can help you get through a rough time. Comforting in their own way, at least until the next time you get on the scales or receive your credit card bill. Habits can also be a way to avoid an uncomfortable situation, like saying yes to everything. Habits can also be a way of filling time when you don’t know what else to do, like getting lost in TV land.
What makes a habit hard to break is that habits do their job! They get us through those stressful times. They fill up time when we don’t know what else to do. The problem is that not only can our habits can be bad for us, but they can also create more problems, and can even place our wellness at risk.
What’s the best way to break a bad habit. Willpower? Actually not. Habits are learned. So to getting rid of a bad habit requires replacing it and learning new behavior. Here’s how:
Have a vision of what you want your life to look like. That is, without the habit. This will help to keep you moving forward.
Figure out the need your habit is meeting. I gave you a few examples of why we engage in bad habits. Focus on your habit. Think about what purpose it serves for you. Stress? Boredom? Avoidance? It might help to keep a diary that includes when you indulge in your bad habit and how you are feeling at the time. Look for clues.
Find healthier alternatives. Okay, so you’ve identified the need your habit meets. Now, look at some healthier alternatives. Taking a walk? Calling a friend? Listening to some soothing music? What’s important here is to come up with alternatives that make sense for you. Don’t even think about putting your bad habit to rest until you are confident you have alternatives in place.
Identify the twins. We often pair something up with our bad habits. Like eating in front of the TV in the evening. Smoking with a cup of coffee. Going shopping with a friend who also tends to overspend. Think about lifestyle changes you may need to make to help you break your habit. Maybe make some plans in the evening that don’t involve the TV. Or suggesting an activity other than shopping with your friend.
Create a plan for change. Now that you have an idea of the why behind your bad habit, and what you can do instead, it’s time to put a plan together. This might include having the alternatives in place, e.g. healthy snack food. A list with ways to lower stress. Or changing up your schedule with activities that get you away from the TV. You might also enlist a buddy to give you support and help keep you accountable. Will you stop indulging in your habit all at one or will you gradually phase it out? Make that part of your plan. Put it in writing!
Ready, get set, go! When you feel like you’ve covered all the bases, then it’s time to get moving. Take it one step at a time and work your plan, day by day.
Don’t get down on yourself. It’s only human to have a few slip-ups along the way. After all, you may be trying to change a habit that’s been with you for a long time. If you’re not progressing as fast as hoped you would, don’t use this as an opportunity for self-criticism. That can lead you right back into the willing arms of your bad habit. Show yourself some kindness, starting with positive self-talk.
Revise as needed. Uh oh, you fell of the horse? Quitting a bad habit is a process. You’ll learn a lot along the way, including what alternatives are effective and which ones aren’t, as well as what kind of additional support you might need. Great! Apply the learning by revising your plan. And then get back up on the horse and keep going. Don’t forget that vision of what you want your life to look like!
You’re not stuck with your bad habits. You can teach yourself new, healthier habits. The key is to harness the power of your mind!