Bad habits interrupt your life and prevent you from accomplishing your goals or at the very least get you off track. They jeopardize your health — both mentally and physically. And, they waste your time and energy. So why do we still do them? And most importantly, is there anything you can do about it?
Most bad habits are caused by one of two things: being stressed or bored.
Most of the time, bad habits are simply a way of dealing with stress and/or boredom. Everything from overeating to overspending on a shopping spree to drinking every weekend to wasting time on the internet can be a simple response to stress and boredom.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can teach yourself new and healthy ways to deal with stress and boredom, which then substitutes in place of your bad habits. Creating good alternatives to when you recognize you are stressed or bored lead long term success and diminish destructive behavior/bad habits.
Of course, sometimes the stress or boredom that is on the surface is actually caused by deeper issues. These issues can be rooted emotional stresses from things in the past. If you’re serious about making changes, then you have to be honest with yourself. Often a good self-sit down chat is in order. Journal all of the things that cause you stress and drive you to your bad habits. Unless we take a deeper look we often don’t even know how our behavior develops.
Are there certain beliefs or reasons that are behind the bad habit? Is there something deeper — a fear (False Evidence Appearing Real), an event, or a limiting belief — that is causing you to hold on to something that is bad for you? Recognizing the causes of your bad habits is crucial to overcoming them.
You don’t eliminate a bad habit, you replace it.
All of the habits that you have right now or have ever had — good or bad — are in your life for a reason. In some way, these behaviors provide some sort of gain or benefit to you, even if they are bad for you in other ways.
Sometimes the benefit is biological like it is with smoking or drugs. Sometimes it’s emotional like it is when you stay in a relationship that is bad for you. And in many cases, your bad habit is a simple way to cope with stress. Numerous examples of bad habits are biting your nails, pulling your hair, tapping your foot, or chewing gum.
These “benefits” or reasons extend to smaller bad habits as well. For example, opening your email inbox as soon as you turn on your computer might make you feel connected. At the same time looking at all of those emails destroys your productivity, divides your attention, and overwhelms you with stress. But, it prevents you from feeling like you’re “missing out” … and so you do it again.
Due to the fact that bad habits provide some type of benefit or reward in your life, it’s very difficult to simply eliminate them. (The “just stop doing it” advice rarely works). Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit. For example, if you smoke when you get stressed, then it’s a bad plan to “just stop smoking” when that happens. Instead, you should come up with a different way to deal with stress and insert that new behavior instead of having a cigarette. If you over eat when you get stressed, then it is a bad plan to “just stop eating”. First of all, you have to eat to survive. Second, all you have to come up with is a different coping mechanism for stress instead of binging on food.
Stress will always be with you, so why not formulate healthy ways to manage it? The first way to manage this is you have to recognize and become aware of the habit first. Once you identify the problem then you can begin to work on the solution. One way to manage this bad habit it to make a list of five different foods you can have when you recognize you are under stress. Set a limit on quantity. Another way to manage stress eating is to have a conversation with your food. When you find yourself stress eating, ask yourself a few questions. Do I need to eat this? If the answer is yes, ask, “Do I need to eat this right now?” If the answer is yes, ask, “If I think I really need this right now ask WHY?” This begins to create a relationship with food. Often times you will find that you are either just stress eating (now you can choose better foods from your list of five) or you need to sleep as you are mentally or physically exhausted.
In other words, bad habits address certain needs in your life. And for that reason, it’s better to replace your bad habits with a healthier behavior that addresses that same need. If you expect yourself to simply cut out bad habits without replacing them, then you’ll have certain needs that will be unmet and it’s going to be hard to stick to a routine of “just don’t do it” for very long.
To change a bad habit, you must first identify it.
Usually you know what your bad habits are, but if you don’t know ask your wife, significant other or loved ones. Once we become aware of the habit then we can change the behavior. Instead, it’s awareness that will show you how to actually make change.
- When does your bad habit actually happen?
- How many times do you do it each day?
- What does the behavior look like
- What environment are you in?
- Where are you?
- Who are you with?
- What triggers the behavior and causes it to start?
- Is there a pattern to the behavior?
Gaining information about the habit will help you construct a good behavior that you want to put into place. It is okay to have a conversation with yourself about your habits and behaviors. Stop and think about it for a while and all the areas it leaches from your life. Be empowered in setting up a new plan.
7 Ways to Break a Bad Habit
- Choose a substitute for your bad habit. You need to have a plan ahead of time for how you will respond when you face the stress or boredom that prompts your bad habit. What are you going to do when you get the urge to eat? (Example: breathing exercises instead.) What are you going to do when Facebook is calling to you to procrastinate? (Example: read a motivational book.) Whatever it is and whatever you’re dealing with, unless you have a plan, your bad habit will persist.
- Cut the triggers if possible. Your environment makes your bad habit easier and good habits harder. Change your environment and you can change the outcome. Take the sweets out of the house. Leave cookies off the grocery list. If you gamble when you go to the casino, don’t go to the casino. Other possible triggers include: lack of sleep, arguing, toxic relationships, emotional pain, fear of failure, etc. Identification can help you set up tools. When you learn your triggers and develop tools to handle them, you are less likely to engrain bad habits.
- Obtain an accountability partner. Joining forces with someone is a powerful tool to success. Knowing someone expects you to be better improves performance and helps both parties.
- Surround yourself with people who empower your new way of life. You don’t need to ditch your old friends, but don’t underestimate the power of finding some new ones. The people that you are hanging next to are what you become. If they are participating in things that you perceive to be a bad habit or bad behavior, it can eventually become your own.
- Visualize success. Visualization or holding the image of how you see yourself in your mind improves long term outcome. See yourself thin and with the body that you want to have and begin to have a permanent vision in your head of who you want to become. If you want to be fit, of course you have to put the work in behind it but a visual aid, such as an old picture of yourself before you gained weight posted on the refrigerator, gives a constant reminder to stay with the healthy habits.
- Overcome negative self–talk. Abstain from negative self-talk. Replace the voices in your head with a prayer verse such as “The Lord is my Shepard.” It’s easy to judge yourself for your bad habits or poor behavior. Every time you slip up or make a mistake, it’s easy to tell yourself you are a failure but that does not help things. Instead, say something like, “I’m not where I need to be, but I am also not where I used to be. I’m on my way to success!”
- Plan for failure. We all slip up every now and then. So rather than beating yourself up over a mistake, plan for it. We all get off track, it does not matter how often we get off track, but how fast we get back on and the tools we use to stay on when we return there.
Breaking bad habits takes time and effort, but mostly it takes perseverance. To break the habit means following a new plan for life, not a day, a week, a month and not even a year. It is for the rest of your life. Most people who end up breaking their bad habits try and fail multiple times before they make it work. You might not have success right away, but keep fine tuning your new behavior and lengthening the time you stay on track and the new behavior will be yours to keep. That word discipline comes to the forefront once again. In all areas we need self-discipline. If we don’t keep an eye out, bad habits can ruin a healthy life!