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How to Break a Bad Habit (and Replace It With a Good One)

How to Break a Bad Habit (and Replace It With a Good One)

Bad habits interrupt your life and prevent you from accomplishing your goals. 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?

I’ve previously written about the science of how habits start, so now let’s focus on the practice of making changes in the real world. How can you delete your bad behaviors and stick to good ones instead? I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but keep reading and I’ll share what I’ve learned about how to break a bad habit.

What causes bad habits?

Most of your bad habits are caused by two things…Stress and boredom. Most of the time, bad habits are simply a way of dealing with stress and boredom. Everything from biting your nails 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 you can then substitute in place of your bad habits. Of course, sometimes the stress or boredom that is on the surface is actually caused by deeper issues. These issues can be tough to think about, but if you’re serious about making changes then you have to be honest with yourself.

Are there certain beliefs or reasons that are behind the bad habit? Is there something deeper — a fear, 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 — good or bad — are in your life for a reason. In some way, these behaviors provide a benefit to you, even if they are bad for you in other ways.

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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. For example, biting your nails, pulling your hair, tapping your foot, or clenching your jaw.

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. Because bad habits provide some type of benefit in your life, it’s very difficult to simply eliminate them. (This is why simplistic advice like “just stop doing it” 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.

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.

How to break a bad habit

Here are some additional ideas for breaking your bad habits and thinking about the process in a new way.

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1. 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 smoke? (Example: breathing exercises instead.) What are you going to do when Facebook is calling to you to procrastinate? (Example: write one sentence for work.) Whatever it is and whatever you’re dealing with, you need to have a plan for what you will do instead of your bad habit.

2. Cut out as many triggers as possible. If you smoke when you drink, then don’t go to the bar. If you eat cookies when they are in the house, then throw them all away. If the first thing you do when you sit on the couch is pick up the TV remote, then hide the remote in a closet in a different room. Make it easier on yourself to break bad habits by avoiding the things that cause them.

Right now, your environment makes your bad habit easier and good habits harder. Change your environment and you can change the outcome.

3. Join forces with somebody. How often do you try to diet in private? Or maybe you “quit smoking” … but you kept it to yourself? (That way no one will see you fail, right?) Instead, pair up with someone and quit together. The two of you can hold each other accountable and celebrate your victories together. Knowing that someone else expects you to be better is a powerful motivator.

4. Surround yourself with people who live the way you want to live. You don’t need to ditch your old friends, but don’t underestimate the power of finding some new ones.

5. Visualize yourself succeeding. See yourself throwing away the cigarettes or buying healthy food or waking up early. Whatever the bad habit is that you are looking to break, visualize yourself crushing it, smiling, and enjoying your success. See yourself building a new identity.

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6. You don’t need to be someone else, you just need to return to the old you. So often we think that to break our bad habits, we need to become an entirely new person. The truth is that you already have it in you to be someone without your bad habits. In fact, it’s very unlikely that you had these bad habits all of your life. You don’t need to quit smoking, you just need to return to being a non–smoker. You don’t need to transform into a healthy person, you just need to return to being healthy. Even if it was years ago, you have already lived without this bad habit, which means you can most definitely do it again.

7. Use the word “but” to overcome negative self–talk. One thing about battling bad habits is that it’s easy to judge yourself for not acting better. Every time you slip up or make a mistake, it’s easy to tell yourself how much you suck. Whenever that happens, finish the sentence with “but”…

  • “I’m fat and out of shape, but I could be in shape a few months from now.”
  • “I’m stupid and nobody respects me, but I’m working to develop a valuable skill.”
  • “I’m a failure, but everybody fails sometimes.”

8. 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, what separates top performers from everyone else is that they get back on track very quickly. For a handful of strategies that can help you bounce back when you make a mistake,read this article.

Where to go from here

If you’re looking for the first step to breaking your bad habits, I’d suggest starting with awareness. It’s easy to get caught up in how you feel about your bad habits. You can make yourself feel guilty or spend your time dreaming about how you wish things were … but these thoughts take you away from what’s actually happening.

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?
  • Where are you?
  • Who are you with?
  • What triggers the behavior and causes it to start?

Simply tracking these issues will make you more aware of the behavior and give you dozens of ideas for stopping it.

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Here’s a simple way to start: just track how many times per day your bad habit happens. Put a piece of paper in your pocket and a pen. Each time your bad habit happens, mark it down on your paper. At the end of the day, count up all of the tally marks and see what your total is.

In the beginning your goal isn’t to judge yourself or feel guilty about doing something unhealthy or unproductive. The only goal is to be aware of when it happens and how often it happens. Wrap your head around the problem by being aware of it. Then, you can start to implement the ideas in this article and break your bad habit.

Breaking bad habits takes time and effort, but mostly it takes perseverance. 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 that doesn’t mean you can’t have it at all.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.
Shoutouts:
1. Hat tip to Leo Babauta for originally talking about stress and boredom driving bad habits.
2. Hat tip to Scott Young for sharing the great idea about using the word “but” to overcome negative self–talk.

Featured photo credit: Mike Hoff via flickr.com

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How To Be Successful In Life: 13 Tips From The Most Successful People

How To Be Successful In Life: 13 Tips From The Most Successful People

What is success to you? How to be successful in life?

To some, when they think of success, they imagine wealth; others want power; some just want to make a positive impact on the world.

All of these are perfectly valid, indeed success is a concept that means different things to different people. Though no matter what success is to you, it almost certainly isn’t something will come easily.

There are countless guides and books to being successful, however, as success is personal and unique to each individual. The advice contained in these books can often not be relevant. Therefore following the advice of a single individual can often be unhelpful.

With this in mind, considering the advice of a great many people, people whose ideas of success were different both to each other, and quite possibly, to you can be a good alternative.

What follows is a list of thirteen of the best pieces of advice from some of the most successful people who have ever lived.

1.Think big.

    From Michelangelo Buonarroti, Great Renaissance Artist:

    “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

    There are few artists as influential as Michaelangelo. Today centuries after his death, his work still inspires and connects to people. His work is world famous, just think of his statue of David, or the Mural in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

    Imagine then, if he decided not to work as an artist.

    Being a successful artist has always been extremely difficult, imagine if he decided to give up this ambition in favour of something easier?

    Oftentimes, people often decided to put their dreams aside for something more “realistic”. To give up their dream for something easier. This quote teaches us the danger of such a point of view.
    Instead be ambitious.

    2.Find what you love to do and do it.

      From Oprah Winfrey, Media Mogul:

      “You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job and not be paid for it.”

      This is a good quote to remember and think about when you’re at work.

      Imagine being as successful as possible in your current job. Ultimately you’ll probably find yourself working extremely hard and this it will take up much of your time.

      If it’s a job you hate, then being successful at it might only mean filling your life with something you hate to do. What’s the sense in this?

      Instead, why not focus on doing something you love? Success at this means the fulfilment of your dreams.

      Even if you’re not successful, you still filled your time with something you love to do. Many successful musicians spent years of their lives doing unpaid performances, the only reason they kept playing was because they loved to perform.

      3. Learn how to balance life.

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        From Phil Knight, CEO of Nike Inc.:

        “There is an immutable conflict at work in life and in business, a constant battle between peace and chaos. Neither can be mastered, but both can be influenced. How you go about that is the key to success.”

        All too often, people think that to be successful, they need to make the object of their success their life.

        If a person thinks their job will lead them to success, then they may spend countless hours per day, and well into the evening working hard.

        However this comes at the cost of rest, your health and having an enjoyable life. Ultimately they may burn out and cease to be successful at their job anyway.

        If success comes from having a strong social life and a good group of friends, their job may suffer; meaning that they may lose their job, and then be unable to afford going out with friends.

        In these ways, success, as Phil Knight says above, is helped by balance. Think of it as a balance between rest and work, or work and play.

        4. Do not be afraid of failure.

          From Henry Ford, Founder of Ford Motors:

          “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

          There is a story, it’s unconfirmed whether it actually happened, yet the message within is none the less true:

          Thomas Edison inventing the lightbulb was the result of several hundred failed attempts. In an interview, he was asked “How do you feel after all of your failed attempts?”

          His response was great, “I didn’t fail, I learned hundreds of ways not to invent the lightbulb”

          He saw each “failure” as a lesson. From that lesson he learned what won’t work, and also might work instead.

          Each failed attempt, each rejection, were key steps on the journey of his success. It is easy to feel like you should give up after a failure. But perhaps in that failure is a lesson.

          Pay attention to your failures, study them. Perhaps then you’ll learn how to succeed.

          5. Have an unwavering resolution to succeed.

            From Colonel Sanders, Founder of KFC:

            “I made a resolve then that I was going to amount to something if I could. And no hours, nor amount of labor, nor amount of money would deter me from giving the best that there was in me. And I have done that ever since, and I win by it. I know.”

            This, in many ways relates to the above quote about learning from your failures.

            It’s the easiest thing in the world to give up from a failure. The only way to push on is if you have the true burning desire to succeed, to not be moved or dissuaded from your goals.

            If you are not truly dedicated towards success, then each failure will hurt more, each set back will slow you down.

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            Success is hard; without the unwavering desire to succeed, this difficulty may seem insurmountable. With the desire, it is merely an obstacle to go through.

            6. Be a person of action.

              From Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance Genius:

              “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

              Though it was said hundreds of years ago, it works just as much today as it ever had. It applies to literally any successful person.

              Think about it, picture someone like William Shakespeare:

              When we think of the time he lived in, we think of the time in a way shaped by him. When we think of Renissance era Italy, we think of Michaelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

              Or think about the present day:

              Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Our current way of life would simply be incomparably different if they didn’t accomplish what they did.

              You’re probably reading this article on a device by a company that they either founded or companies influenced by them.

              All these figures were proactive, they saw ways to do things differently and did them. If they let the world shape them, then they’d simply fit into the background. Instead they shaped the world.

              Applying this to you?

              Don’t be afraid of going outside the norm. If you can think of a better way to do something, do it that way. If you fail, try again.

              7. Avoid conflicts.

                From Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of America: “

                The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

                The best leaders and some of the most influential people (and Theodore Roosevelt is one of the best leaders and one of the most influential people to have lived) were not those who caused commotions, who fought with people or disregarded people; but were people who were friendly to those around them.

                People liked them. They wanted them to do well.

                This is key to good leadership.

                It’s logical. If someone likes you, they want to help you; if you give them a suggestion, they’ll gladly follow through with it.

                But if someone doesn’t like you, they may either refuse to help or actively get in your way.

                What’s more, it’s always a good idea to cultivate good relationships. You can never tell who will prove to become someone who’ll be able to help you in a big way, or even be a good and supportive friend.

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                As such, help people and they may help you; and be good to people, and they my be good to you.

                8. Don’t be afraid of introducing new ideas.

                  From Mark Twain, Famed Author:

                  “A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”

                  It is an unfortunate truth that those with the boldest ideas are often disregarded.

                  Most of us are taught from an early age to think and do things similarly to everyone else. This can be great to fill an existing role. But to truly do things differently (and all successful people did things differently), you need to think differently.

                  If you have a new idea, don’t throw it away because it’s new and different; instead, celebrate it. Your strange new idea might one day be the one that leads you to success.

                  9. Believe in your capacity to succeed.

                    From Walter Disney, Founder of Walt Disney Company:

                    “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

                    Success has to be something you can imagine yourself achieving.

                    It is possible that you will come across those who doubt you and your ability to succeed. You must not become one of these people because the moment you cease believing and dreaming is the moment these dreams fall away.

                    Keep dreaming!

                    10. Always maintain a positive mental attitude.

                      From Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of America:

                      “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

                      Like the above quote says, you need to trust in your ability to succeed. This is the only way to cultivate the right mindset.

                      You need to approach problems, not as obstacles stopping you, but merely tasks that need to be completed for you to keep going.

                      If you think like this, setbacks won’t affect you so much, people’s doubts won’t impact you and even the biggest obstacles will seem like minor problems.

                      However with the wrong mindset of doubt, you’ll be much easier to stop.

                      11. Don’t let discouragement stop you from pressing on.

                        From Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of America:

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                        “Let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.”

                        It is an unfortunate fact of human nature — all of us in some way, doubt ourselves. This can be made far worse if others doubt us too.

                        When surrounded by doubts, giving up can actually seem like a good idea.

                        Don’t pay attention to the doubts. If you are discouraged, ignore it.

                        If this discouragement moves into your mind and you begin to doubt yourself. It is important to ignore this too.

                        Take a look at these 5 Ways to Stop Self Doubt in its Tracks.

                        12. Be willing to work hard.

                          From JC Penny, Founder of JC Penney Inc.:

                          “Unless you are willing to drench yourself in your work beyond the capacity of the average man, you are just not cut out for positions at the top.”

                          You might have heard the quote that “success is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration” or you may have heard about the 10,000 hours idea.

                          Whichever way you frame it, they say one thing:

                          Success comes from work.

                          You’ll never become successful if you don’t work towards your goal and keep working towards it.

                          Check out this article and you’ll understand Why Hard Work Beats Talent.

                          13. Be brave enough to follow your intuition.

                            From Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple Inc.:

                            “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

                            In ancient Greece, there was a group of Oracles who lived in Delphi. Everyone who needed advice or to know their future visited them, from the poorest of society to kings. Above the doorway of the temple were the words “know thyself”.

                            If you strongly believe and desire something, the chances are that you already have an idea how to get there. If not, you may naturally know what things will help you and what things will slow you down.

                            It’s like how your body can detect danger even when things seem safe.

                            Ultimately then, you need to trust your own instincts.

                            Final thoughts

                            What you might have noticed is that many of the above lessons are similar — most are about developing the right state of mind. This clearly suggests that the key to becoming success, in whatever you wish, comes down to the way you approach it mentally.

                            Featured photo credit: Ryan Wong via unsplash.com

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