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How to Program Your Mind to Kick the Bad Habit

How to Program Your Mind to Kick the Bad Habit

As you’re reading this, you may be checking your phone or Facebook, slouching in your chair, or snacking without thinking. Perhaps you’re reading this right before bedtime even though you know that the light from your electronics can negatively impact your sleep pattern.[1]

We are all guilty of some of these things from time to time.

The Love-Hate Relationship With Bad Habits

Having bad habits doesn’t make someone a bad person— even if you are aware that your behavior could have a negative impact on your health or well-being. If you are having trouble making a change, you’re likely telling yourself one of two things:

  • I’ve been [insert your habit here] for such a long time, and it doesn’t seem to be affecting my life that much. It would take too much effort to quit, and I don’t think it’s necessary.
  • I’ve been doing this for so long that I don’t know any other way to function. I don’t think that I can quit.

Bad habits have become so ingrained in everyday behaviors that it is bound to be tough to change them. These routines are such a part of life that even knowing the potential negative impacts might not be enough to change them.[2]

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For example, a stressful phone call at work could be a trigger for you. The stress might make you want to eat an entire bag of chips. That bag of chips gave you some level of satisfaction. The reward is happening on a chemical and hormonal level in your body. Even though you know that snacking excessively is unhealthy, your body may crave junk food whenever you are under stress.[3] Before you know it, for good or for ill, you’ve initiated the process of habit-formation.[4] Oftentimes, this version of autopilot is a form of escape.

Maybe you smoke because you feel that it helps to relieve your stress. Perhaps you slouch chronically because you are fatigued, and it seems easier to slump over than sit up straight. Bad habits provide with some form of comfort which can make them tough to break.

Imagine I had two offers for you, the first offer was giving you 100 dollars today, and the second offer was giving you 1000 dollars but only 7 years later. Which offer would you take? Even though you know that you can get more money if you wait, you’re likely to take the first offer because you don’t like to delay the reward.

Instant gratification has always been the greatest enemy when it comes to breaking bad habits. Knowing something can have a negative effect is never enough to make someone quit. Bad habits exist because they are actually making people feel good.

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How to Break up With Bad Habits

Here are three proven steps to get over bad habits once and for all.

1. Take your mind away.

After you’ve made up your mind to quit, and you’ve found your alternative, commit to quitting your bad habits by going mindless every time a bad habit trigger appears.[5] Committing to change means that you can’t make excuses and you can’t give yourself any room to convince yourself why you can just skip it once. Don’t think whether you should do the bad habit or not, just don’t do it no matter what.

For example, if you want to eliminate your incessant slouching at work, you have to tell yourself that you aren’t going to slouch while you’re working no matter what. Just stick to sitting up straight, no excuses on why you can slouch for a while.

2. Be super aware whether you have done the bad habit every day.

Write down how things are going with your commitment.[6] It’s easy to lose track of progress if you don’t make a note of your behaviors.

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You are bound to slip up when you are turning over a new leaf. Writing down your behaviors might reveal patterns related to these moments of weakness. If you can spot the pattern, you may be able to disrupt it.

3. Have a strict reward and punishment system.

Reward yourself when you stick with your commitment. Maybe you will allow yourself to take a five-minute dance break or eat a cookie with your lunch in exchange for not mindlessly chomping on snacks at your desk. Your reward doesn’t have to be costly, but it should be valuable to you. The only stipulation is that you can’t reward your good behavior with the bad habit.

Designate a consequence for engaging in the negative habit. The consequence doesn’t need to be emotionally damaging. It just needs to cause enough discomfort or inconvenience to make you think twice about falling into old patterns.

People have been doing this for decades with the “swear jar.”[7] Every time they say a bad word, they have to sacrifice money to the jar. You could come up with your own version of the swear jar or find some other consequence that will motivate you to stay on the proper path. Maybe every day that you snack on candy at your desk, you have to take your friend out to a healthy lunch. Having to incur this extra cost and effort will keep you accountable.

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Your system of rewards and consequences are transactions that can help you eliminate your bad habits and automate the good ones.

Train Yourself Like a Dog (for a Good Cause)

Ultimately, you’ll want to train yourself to do the right things the way that Pavlov’s dogs salivated automatically when they heard a bell ring.[8] The dogs salivated (their routine) without thinking because they had been classically conditioned to associate the sound of the bell ringing (a trigger) with food (their reward).

Don’t let a fear of failure stand in your way. Even if you have been engaged in a bad habit for years, it is still possible to eliminate the unhealthy behavior. Know that it may not be easy at first, but eventually the good habit will become your natural response to the trigger. The commitment to break bad habits could lead you to a healthier and more successful future. The change can start today.

Share to those who love instant pleasure too much, there is actually a way out.

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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