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You drink to much coffee and you know it. You have to cut back but you have tried and it is just too hard. You succeed for a day or two, but something always happens and you are back to where you started. The problem may be that you are trying to give up all of your habit, not just the negative parts. There are good parts to bad habits. You don’t have to give all of a habit away.

Any habit, good or bad, is made up of a bunch of different payoffs. For example, we might drink coffee for the caffeine hit. However we also look forward to the ritual of brewing it, or the flavour and aroma. We enjoy the social side of coffee, or the chance to get away from work for a while. These, and more, are the payoffs from our coffee habit.

Out of these payoffs, there are some that are bad for us and others that are not. Usually with coffee, a person will decide to reduce or quit the habit because of the negative effects of the caffeine. Is it necessary to cut out all of the payoffs, by taking the clean sweep approach? Usually not. If we get rid of all of the payoffs at once, we are asking for failure.

Instead of cutting out all of the payoffs, good and bad, we can retain the harmless parts and give ourselves a much higher chance of success. With our coffee example, all we have to do is identify ways that retain or replicate these positive payoffs without the caffeine, which is the negative payoff.

Of course this flies in the face of conventional addiction treatment. Some would say that this opens up the opportunity for a habit to re-establish itself. I am not an expert on serious addictions. All I know is that it is possible to retain some aspects of a habit without keeping the negative habit itself. I see this as a better alternative, to leave a gaping hole in your life where the habit used to be. I believe it is better to keep as many of the payoffs intact and concentrate on only getting rid of the negative ones.

So here is the process:

  1. Identify all of the payoffs from the habit you are trying to break. This can take some serious thinking if you want to get to the heart of it.
  2. Decide which of these payoffs are directly related to the negative consequences that you are trying to get rid of.
  3. Decide if, and how, it will be possible for you to retain the other payoffs while avoiding the ones you want to dump.
  4. Get to work.

If you apply yourself to this, you should experience much more success in modifying your habits. Give it a shot and see if you can drop the bad parts of a habit but still retain the good parts. Remember, bad habits aren’t all bad.

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