Whether they affect our personal or professional life, most of us have bad habits we’d like to break:
- procrastinating when faced with an unpleasant task;
- spending money on impulse buys;
- snacking on junk food;
- overreacting when frustrated…
…these are just a few examples.
Most bad habits arise from stress and/or boredom; they exist because they provide some kind of benefit for you (alleviating stress and/or providing entertainment). But while they provide temporary physical or psychological advantages, they’re bad for you in other ways – which is why you need to break them, right?
Whatever it is you’re trying to change about your behavior, the trick to breaking bad habits is pretty simple:
Replace your bad habit with a better one!
Since bad habits provide positive reinforcement, merely eliminating them is very difficult. Instead, it’s much more effective to replace unwanted behaviors with healthier, more productive habits. Want to give it a try? Here a few things you can do to break a bad habit by adopting a better one:
- Determine the underlying reasons for the behavior. Do you smoke when you’re stressed? Incessantly check emails to avoid tackling tough work responsibilities? Snap at others when you’re feeling worried or insecure? Pinpointing the reasons you’re engaging in an unwanted behavior is the first step in identifying an effective replacement.
- Choose an appropriate substitute. Create a list of potential alternatives to engage in when your bad habit is triggered. For example, if you tend to eat junk when you’re bored, you could: opt for healthier foods; get up and take your dog for a walk; call a friend; or even brush your teeth. Whatever you choose to do, fully commit to following through with that behavior anytime you’re tempted.
- Reduce triggers. Sometimes, it’s possible to remove (or at least minimize) the stimuli and situations that prompt unwanted behaviors. So, if shopping with friends makes you feel pressured to spend money you don’t have, suggest another activity instead. Bottom line, do whatever you can to make it easier on yourself to resist temptation.
- Notice rationalizations. When faced with change, our minds often react with all kinds of rationalizations: it’s too hard; I deserve a break; just this once… Recognize these thoughts when they come into your head for what they are: excuses! Arm yourself with counterarguments (e.g., I deserve a break, but I really need to get this report done – so I’ll take one once it’s finished) for each rationalization your mind comes up with – so you don’t cave.
- Visualize success. One of the best ways to succeed at anything is by keeping your eye on your goal. Picture yourself healthier, more serene, richer, kinder, and then bring those images to mind to keep yourself disciplined.
- Forgive yourself if you lapse. And move on! Nobody is perfect, especially when it comes to changing behaviors, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up.