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How to break a bad habit in 8 easy steps
Bad habits are like acne during teenage years: they refuse to leave. They're like superman: impossible to break. And lastly, bad habits are like Bruce Willis: die hard.
Bad jokes aside, bad habits are a common problem that attacks most people on earth. If you are on the verge of going insane because your bad habits are killing your best intentions to become a better person, you're not alone. And most importantly, you need to know that there's hope.
Getting rid of the bad habit
Your bad habit will not disappear overnight. It will take time and specific steps. So ahead of time, you need to know that you will need to be vey patient with yourself and understand that it's okay to fall as long as you are willing to get up again. Let's review the necessary steps to kick that bad habit out.
Identify the bad habit
We all have more than one bad habit. Don't try to change them all at once. Identify the bad habit you most want to change and concentrate all your energies there. It is important to work on one bad habit at a time. Most people end up frustrated and defeated when they try to tackle too many things at once. To make success more likely, focus on one bad habit you want to change and use all your energies to beat it.
Identify the reasons behind the bad habit
One of my worse bad habits is procrastination. I always wait for the last minute to get things done. Before trying to eliminate this horrible habit, I sat down and listed the reasons of why I procrastinate.
Here's what I came up with:
I procrastinate because:
- The project at hand is too hard or tedious
- I wrongfully believe that I will be able to do a good job even if I have no time.
- I deserve a break from time to time and right now is the moment to take it.
These are the three main reasons of my procrastination. However, reason number one is the strongest: I procrastinate because what needs to be done is boring, hard or just plain annoying.
Find the flaw in your reasoning
The reasoning that supports our bad habits are usually flawed. For example, the number one reason of my procrastination is that the project is too boring or too hard, but will procrastinating make it less hard or boring? No! It will just add stress to an already undesirable situation. If you really stop to analyze the reasons supporting your bad habit, you will see how completely unfounded they are.
Let me give you another example. My friend has a bad habit of snoozing his alarm for "just 5 more minutes". Everyday he ends up running late to work. His reasoning supporting his bad habit is that 5 minutes are going to make him feel rested. I had to break the bad news to him: 5 extra minutes of sleep in the morning are not going to make you feel any better, they are only going to make you late.
Choose a good habit to replace a bad habit
Don't just try to get rid of a bad habit. Replace it or else you will just end up going back to the familiar habit. Stop yourself from doing that by having a plan ready.
For my procrastination habit, I decided to replace it with a schedule habit. For each project pending over my head, I choose a date on which I will start working on it. That way I'm able to see how much leisure time I have before I definitely have to get to work. It has worked!
For your habit, choose a specific replacement. Don't leave it to chance. So instead of saying "I will stop eating a lot at dinner time", say " at dinner time I won't have seconds."
The difference is the perception. Eating a lot is not really a defined amount. What is "a lot"? Who knows! However, if you say you won't have seconds you are limiting yourself to eating one plate and that's it. That's something that can be easily measured. If you do or do not comply with your newly imposed limits, have a punishment/reward chart.
Rewards and punishments
This worked when we were kids, and it keeps working now. Choose to either reward yourself when you stick to a good habit or punish yourself when you go back to the bad habit. However I have noticed that rewards tend to work much better when trying to reinforce a good behavior, but each person is different so you will have to decide what works best for you.
Every time I stick to my schedule I reward myself with a good movie and a bag of popcorn. It doesn't seem like much but I enjoy it tremendously and it's a good enough incentive for me to keep me in the right path.
Find something small and simple that will help keep your good habit. Some choose going to the store and buying something for themselves or some time of pure relaxation. Choose whatever makes you happy.
For my bad habit of over eating I decided to punish myself by walking until I burned all the calories I had eaten. To tell you the truth, this didn't work out so well for me, but I know some people who swear by this type of method. So if you choose to punish yourself for going back to your bad habit, make sure it's nothing too extreme. I don't want to be responsible for self hurting behaviors.
Keep a list
Create 2 lists. Dedicate one list to the consequences of keeping your bad habit and the other list should have all the benefits you will derive if you keep a good habit. Keep these lists handy. Review these lists whenever you feel the urge to go back to your old ways.
Set a date
This is a very important step. Setting a date for the beginning of your new habit will make your goal seem more real. Instead of saying "I will start tomorrow", say on "I will begin my new habit on Oct. 1". Choose a date that is not too far away or you might lose impulse.
You will need to be extra patient and understand that you might go back to your old habit from time to time. You may lose battles, but never allow yourself to lose the war. Be patient with yourself and accept the inevitable falls that will come your way but never give up.
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