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Why Forming a New Good Habit Is Easier Than Breaking a Bad One

Why Forming a New Good Habit Is Easier Than Breaking a Bad One

We’ve all got a few bad habits. No one’s perfect. Whether it’s eating too much candy, leaving everything until the last minute, watching too much TV, skipping workouts, or letting e-mails pile up at work, we all do things that go against our best interests.

So why don’t we just drop our bad habits? Every year, millions of us make New Year’s resolutions in a bid to change. Unfortunately, as you know, it’s not that simple. Our bad habits become a regular way of life. We start to say things like, “Oh, that’s just how I am!” and “It’s just what I do.” It can feel impossible to break a habit once and for all. In fact, the more you try to resist a habit, the more it can stick.

The science behind bad habits

We all repeat things that feel good, even if we know that they won’t help us in the long run. This is because bad habits such as drinking alcohol, eating too much sugary food, and spending too long in front of the TV trigger the release of dopamine, a feel-good chemical in the brain.[1] When your brain learns that a particular action makes you feel good, it compels you to repeat it in the future. Your bad habits serve a purpose. Although you might not like the end result, they give you a positive outcome in the moment. This is why they are so hard to kick.

If you develop the habit of slumping in front of the TV as soon as you get in from work, you will probably start skipping workouts, which becomes another bad habit. You might also start to snack in front of your favorite shows. Suddenly, you will have slipped into not one, not two, but three bad habits!

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It’s human nature to seek out rewards, even if they harm us. For instance, 70% of smokers say that they would like to quit but cannot do so, despite the fact that everyone knows that smoking is terrible for human health.[2]

What should you do instead?

Quite simply, you need to start building better habits and stop wasting time and effort trying to break free from your negative behaviours.

Stop judging yourself

You’ve probably already tried telling yourself to just stop with the bad habits and do better in future. Unfortunately, berating yourself only leads to a negative self-image and self-doubt. This kind of negative thinking can become a bad habit in itself.

Thinking about your own faults isn’t much fun. You may have noticed that when you try to break a bad habit, your mind comes up with all kinds of justifications as to why you should carry on doing the same old thing. Habits make you feel comfortable, remember? It’s hard to give that up. Moreover, if you’ve been engaging in the same old habits for months or even years, they will be firmly entrenched. This makes them hard to shift.

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For example, let’s say that you want to cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink each week. One of your bad habits is to have a large glass of wine every night just before you sit down for dinner. You could try scolding yourself, reading up on the dangers of drinking too much, and telling yourself sternly that you are “going to stop this week.”

Unfortunately, the most likely outcome in this situation is that you will feel uncomfortable at the prospect of giving up your bad habit, and possibly guilty or ashamed of having the problem in the first place. So how do you deal with these feelings? By carrying on drinking, of course!

Change your focus

You need to take a new approach. Instead of beating yourself up, it’s time to think about developing behaviors that can provide you with a sense of comfort without damaging your physical or psychological health. If you know that your new habits will help you feel better, you will be motivated to start them! This is much easier than trying to break a bad habit.

When identifying your bad habits and adopting new, positive behaviors, you need to think like a detective or scientist. Take a step back and look at the situation from an objective point of view. If this is difficult for you, pretend that you are trying to help someone else. This can provide you with a clearer perspective.

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First, think about the root causes of your bad habit. Why did it start, and what triggers keep it going? For instance, if you have fallen into the habit of eating high-fat microwave dinners after work, this may be because you went through a busy time in your life where you didn’t have the energy to cook a healthy meal in the evening. At the time, prepackaged microwave dinners may been an adequate temporary solution.

The next step is to devise new habits that will give you the same level of comfort. Ask yourself how you can make it simple to start putting your new habits in place.

Check out this guide for lots of tips on how to make a new habit stick.

Get into the habit of building better habits

We all know that bad habits are comfortable, but you can change!

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Remember, habits become more engrained over time. The more often you repeat an action – whether good or bad – the more likely it is to stick. This also goes for the habit-building habit too.

Once you’ve mastered the art of squeezing out bad habits with more positive behaviours, it will get easier and easier to build the life you want.

Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

Reference

[1] Truthhawk: Why Do We Have Bad Habits?
[2] News In Health: Breaking Bad Habits

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on November 18, 2019

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

Everyone of my team members has a bucketload of tasks that they need to deal with every working day. On top of that, most of their tasks are either creativity tasks or problem solving tasks.

Despite having loads of tasks to handle, our team is able to stay creative and work towards our goals consistently.

How do we manage that?

I’m going to reveal to you how I helped my team get more things done in less time through the power of correct prioritization. A few minutes spent reading this article could literally save you thousands of hours over the long term. So, let’s get started with my method on how to prioritize:

The Scales Method – a productivity method I created several years ago.

How to Prioritize with the Scales Method

    One of our new editors came to me the other day and told me how she was struggling to keep up with the many tasks she needed to handle and the deadlines she constantly needed to stick to.

    At the end of each day, she felt like she had done a lot of things but often failed to come up with creative ideas and to get articles successfully published. From what she told me, it was obvious that she felt overwhelmed and was growing increasingly frustrated about failing to achieve her targets despite putting in extra hours most days.

    After she listened to my advice – and I introduced her to the Scales Method – she immediately experienced a dramatic rise in productivity, which looked like this:

    • She could produce three times more creative ideas for blog articles
    • She could publish all her articles on time
    • And she could finish all her work on time every day (no more overtime!)

    Curious to find out how she did it? Read on for the step-by-step guide:

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    1. Set Aside 10 Minutes for Planning

    When it comes to tackling productivity issues, it makes sense to plan before taking action. However, don’t become so involved in planning that you become trapped in it and never move beyond first base.

    My recommendation is to give yourself a specific time period for planning – but keep it short. Ideally, 10 or 15 minutes. This should be adequate to think about your plan.

    Use this time to:

    • Look at the big picture.
    • Think about the current goal and target that you need/want to achieve.
    • Lay out all the tasks you need to do.

    2. Align Your Tasks with Your Goal

    This is the core component that makes the Scales Method effective.

    It works like this:

    Take a look at all the tasks you’re doing, and review the importance of each of them. Specifically, measure a task’s importance by its cost and benefit.

    By cost, I am referring to the effort needed per task (including time, money and other resources). The benefit is how closely the task can contribute to your goal.

      To make this easier for you, I’ve listed below four combinations that will enable you to quickly and easily determine the priority of each of your tasks:

      Low Cost + High Benefit

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      Do these tasks first because they’re the simple ones to complete, yet help you get closer to your goal.

      Approving artwork created for a sales brochure would likely fit this category. You could easily decide on whether you liked the artwork/layout, but your decision to approve would trigger the production of the leaflet and the subsequent sales benefits of sending it out to potential customers.

      High Cost + High Benefit

      Break the high cost task down into smaller ones. In other words, break the big task into mini ones that take less than an hour to complete. And then re-evaluate these small tasks and set their correct priority level.

      Imagine if you were asked to write a product launch plan for a new diary-free protein powder supplement. Instead of trying to write the plan in one sitting – aim to write the different sections at different times (e.g., spend 30 minutes writing the introduction, one hour writing the body text, and 30 minutes writing the conclusion).

      Low Cost + Low Benefit

      This combination should be your lowest priority. Either give yourself 10-15 minutes to handle this task, or put these kind of tasks in between valuable tasks as a useful break.

      These are probably necessary tasks (e.g., routine tasks like checking emails) but they don’t contribute much towards reaching your desired goal. Keep them way down your priority list.

      High Cost + Low Benefit

      Review if these tasks are really necessary. Think of ways to reduce the cost if you decide that the completion of the task is required.

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      For instance, can any tools or systems help to speed up doing the task? In this category, you’re likely to find things like checking and updating sales contacts spreadsheets. This can be a fiddly and time-consuming thing to do without making mistakes. However, there are plenty of apps out there they can make this process instant and seamless.

      Now, coming back to the editor who I referred to earlier, let’s take a look at her typical daily task list:

        After listening to my advice, she broke down the High cost+ High benefit task into smaller ones. Her tasks then looked like this (in order of priority):

          And for the task about promoting articles to different platforms, after reviewing its benefits, we decided to focus on the most effective platform only – thereby significantly lowering the associated time cost.

          Bonus Tip: Tackling Tasks with Deadlines

          Once you’ve evaluated your tasks, you’ll know the importance of each of them. This will immediately give you a crystal-clear picture on which tasks would help you to achieve more (in terms of achieving your goals). Sometimes, however, you won’t be able to decide every task’s priority because there’ll be deadlines set by external parties such as managers and agencies.

          What to do in these cases?

          Well, I suggest that after considering the importance and values of your current tasks, align the list with the deadlines and adjust the priorities accordingly.

          For example, let’s dip into the editor’s world again.

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          Some of the articles she edited needed to be published by specific dates. The Scales Method allows for this, and in this case, her amended task list would look something like this:

            Hopefully, you can now see how easy it is to evaluate the importance of tasks and how to order them in lists of priority.

            The Scales Method Is Different from Anything Else You’ve Tried

            By adopting the Scales Method, you’ll begin to correctly prioritize your work, and most importantly – boost your productivity by up to 10 times!

            And unlike other methods that don’t really explain how to decide the importance of a task, my method will help you break down each of your tasks into two parts: cost and benefits. My method will also help you to take follow-up action based on different cost and benefits combinations.

            Start right now by spending 10 minutes to evaluate your common daily tasks and how they align with your goal(s). Once you have this information, it’ll be super-easy to put your tasks into a priority list. All that remains, is that you kick off your next working day by following your new list.

            Trust me, once you begin using the Scales Method – you’ll never want to go back to your old ways of working.

            More to Boost Productivity

            Featured photo credit: Vector Stock via vectorstock.com

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