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Published on March 4, 2019

How to Break Bad Habits (The Only Effective Way)

How to Break Bad Habits (The Only Effective Way)

Do you struggle with that afternoon snack which creates love handles? How about that smoking or drinking habit which is already starting to get pesky? Or the nail-biting, overspending, too much TV or social media?

I get it.

I had all of those and more, and it seemed like an impossible task to get rid of them. And for someone scared, frustrated, and with no information and guidance– it was.

But that all changed when I learned that all of the above are mechanical tasks automated by our brains or simply said — habits.

And all habits fall under the same laws and rules of creation and “destruction.” So I learned how to destroy and break habits and I applied that to the ones in my life.

They didn’t only work for myself, I shared the way with my friends and it worked for them too. So the process which I will describe in the article will work for you too.

It’s time to get rid of those troublesome bad habits and the first step is has nothing to do with the habit.

1. Work on Your Environment

The first thing to stop doing a habit has actually nothing to do with the actual performance on the habit. It has everything to do with the environment around you.

See, habits consists of three parts: A cue– which signalizes the brain to go into routine- which is the actual performance of the habit, and the reward- which is the satisfaction that we get from performing that routine.

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It’s like you walking down the street and spotting an ice-cream stand (cue). You immediately walk over there and get double chocolate ice cream balls. You start devouring it (routine) and as soon as the sweet taste of ice cold chocolate hits your tongue, you feel the ecstasy (reward).

Environmental design is all about changing your environment so that you don’t experience the cue at all.

In the case above, it would mean not walking down the street where they sell the ice cream that you really want to have. Or to make it way harder for you to consume the ice cream by leaving your wallet at home and not being able to buy it. Or knowing that the stand only takes cash and you only carry cards with you.

As long as you can make the environment go in your favor as much as possible, it will be easier to drop the bad habit.

If you eat cookies at night, stop buying them in the groceries. Same applies to alcohol or soda beverages.

If you can eliminate the environment which pushes you into the habit that you don’t want, you have already done half of the work.

But then, there are times when you will fail at this. It will happen for sure and when it does, this is how you need to respond.

2. Start Small, As Small As Possible

It’s unreasonable to think that you will shut down your bad habit immediately and that you won’t fail even once. That’s just a recipe for disaster.

It’s more about how you manage yourself after you fall down.

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The one night where you had the ice cream is bad, but what’s worse is if you drop the attempt to stop eating ice cream altogether just because you had it once.

I set myself a daily habit of reading 20 pages of a book a day and yes, there were days when I didn’t read at all. But did that stop me from continuing to perform the daily habit?

Nope.

And even though I haven’t managed to read every single day, the total book count at the end of the year was still above 40 books.

The steps that you take when shutting down the bad habit need to be small and you need to be as consistent as possible.

If you’re smoking 30 cigars a day, it’s unreasonable to think that tomorrow you will smoke none. Or even if you manage not to smoke for a day or two, the third day you will go haywire and smoke 30 cigars, getting back into the same bad habit.

To be feasible, you need to start slow and work your way “down.” Start slowly lowering the dose of whatever bad habit you’re having.

If you bite your nails, then designate one finger which will be “bite free”. You will still go ham at 9 fingers, but one will be left alone. Soon enough, you will move this to 8, then to 7, then to 6. Then, you will stop biting the nails on one of your hands. You will slowly progress at this until you finally stop the habit from occurring altogether.

But keeping all of this just in your head is a major problem. Our brains are fallible, easily forget, and have biases which cloud our perception and judgment.

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To prevent it from meddling in the process, we need to put all of this on paper (or digital format). We do that by tracking and measuring our progress.

3. Track and Measure

This is the golden rule when it comes to anything regarding habits. You need to track and measure your progress. Period.

Because you do what you track and you improve what you measure. The tracker doesn’t have to be anything complicated. I use a simple excel sheet where I write down the number of pages of a book I read.

This is important because of two reasons:

  • It stops you from breaking the chain. If you rack up enough days where you don’t do the bad habit, you will be motivated by the good streak that you’re having. You will have a bigger perspective on the actions and behaviors you did or didn’t do.
  • KanBan boards came into life to exchange the sticky notes because they provided one category a simple to-do list doesn’t have — previously done work.

A typical kanban board today is Trello — a simple management tool where you have the tasks that you have already done, those which are in progress, and the ones you will do in the future.

When you have a tracker, you can look back and feel proud of the progress and work that you managed to in the past. This will make you motivated to keep making the same decisions over and over again, effectively shutting down the bad habit.

But there is one more thing that I left for the end. One thing that will make all of the above multiple times easier. The one thing which is the bane of all bad habits and that’s an identity that gives life to the habit.

4. Change Your Identity

When you smoke, you don’t simply perform the action of smoking. You have an identity behind that action — you are a smoker.

When you eat excessively, you don’t simply perform that action. You have an identity behind that action — you are obese.

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This is why it’s so hard to make changes when it comes to habits. We are literally losing (transforming) a part of ourselves when we change. We lose a part of our identity, something which we are by not doing that action anymore.

The way that we change this is by removing our identity from the action that we are doing.[1] We are no longer smokers, we are people who smoke cigars. We are no longer obese, we are people who eat excessively. We are no longer lazy, we are people who are indulging in unproductive behavior.

When you remove your identity from the action that you’re doing, then losing the habits becomes easy. Because you longer identify with that behavior, it becomes just something that you do.

An even better way to break bad habits would be to change instill positive identity-based habits in our mind.

An example would be that we are no longer identifying as an obese person. We are now identifying ourselves as a healthy person. And a healthy person doesn’t overeat, does s/he? S/he doesn’t. So we start behaving like a healthy person and by fixing the cause, the effect takes care of itself.

The Bottom Line

Breaking bad habits doesn’t have to feel like drudgery. It can be really uplifting and satisfying if you implement the four above-mentioned strategies to it:

  • Environmental design which removes the cue for habit from your surroundings.
  • Do small actions one at a time for maximum effect. It’s about doing less today to more in a year.
  • What gets tracked, gets done. What gets measured, gets improved.
  • And changing the identity behind the habit.

These four will help you break the bad habit. So go out there and make it happen, one small step at a time.

More Resources About Building & Breaking Habits

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Bruno Boksic

An expert in habit building

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Last Updated on January 24, 2020

10 Good Habits To Have in Life To Be More Successful

10 Good Habits To Have in Life To Be More Successful

Habits are behaviors and patterns that you showcase by default. They enable you to carry out crucial activities like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, getting prepared for work.

Interestingly, you follow this routine every day without considering them. Your unconscious habits create room for your brain to perform more advanced activities like problem-solving and choosing what book to read.

Everyone has habits, and several of those habits are activated every day. I would classify them into three groups:

  • The first category includes the habits that you hardly notice as they have become a major part of your life- such as brushing teeth or wearing clothes.
  • The second category comprises good habits to have to be more successful-like eating healthily, exercising your body and reading books.
  • The last group consists of those habits that are harmful-like procrastinating, smoking or overeating.

Habits are fundamental to becoming successful in life — or probably ending up a failure. Yet, as significant as habits are, some lack the knowledge of their capabilities.

Habits are default activities that you engage in without giving an afterthought. They are automatic behavioral or mental activities. They help you carry out some actions without exerting too much energy. They simplify your life.

Several people aspire to break bad habits. For instance, some people diet to stop overeating. They exercise to reduce obesity. Habits can hinder or impact your performance and productivity.

That’s why I would share 10 good habits to have to be more successful in life.

1. Begin Your Day with Meditation

I recommend mindful meditation early in the morning. This practice helps you to be in the present moment. Consequently, it enables you to be mindful of challenging situations during the day.

Different stressors may trigger as you go through the day; meditation helps you to remain calm before taking on the challenges.

Personally, it helps me to devise strategies and think about ideas. Meditation is a good habit to have if you want to be connected to what’s significant in your life.

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2. Be Grateful for What You Have

Sometimes, you waste time thinking of what’s not enough. You become immersed in those daunting challenges. However, challenges justify the presence of hope. When you have life, you have expectations. You will be free from challenges when you are six feet under. The only strategy you have to stop focusing on your problems is to focus on what you have.

Gratitude is a time-tested pathway to success, health, and happiness. It redirects your focus to what you have from what you lack. Here’s what James Clear does every day,[1]

“I say one thing I’m grateful for each day when I sit down to eat dinner.”

3. Smile

Can you pause and smile before you continue reading this?

Now here is what just happened based on research conducted by the Association for Psychological Science; you set a pace for living a happier life when you smile. A genuine smile or what’s called a Duchenne smile is a good habit to have if you want to find spiritual, emotional and mental peace of mind.[2]

Smiling induces the release of molecules that function towards fighting stress. The physiological state of your body determines the state of your mind. When you slouch or frown, your mind takes cues relating to unhappiness and depression. But, once you adjust yourself by putting up a smile, you begin to feel a new level of excitement and vibrancy.

Can you smile again?

4. Start Your Day with a Healthy Breakfast

Starting your day with a healthy breakfast is a good habit to have and forms a crucial part of your life. Nevertheless, about 31 million Americans skip their breakfast each day.[3]

If you are fed up hearing that breakfast is a crucial component of your day, you are only fighting the truth. If you want to become more successful, you need to ‘break your fast’ with healthy foods every morning.

This habit is not difficult to form if you usually rush out the door every single morning. You can wake up earlier to fix yourself a meal so you don’t break down during the day.

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Get inspired by these 20 Healthy Breakfast Choices That Will Save You Time.

5. Exercise Daily

One of the good habits to have is to exercise your body and muscles every day. You don’t have to run a marathon or lift a weight. You only need to engage in less strenuous activities that oxygenate your blood and inject endorphins in your body.

Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, classified exercise as a good habit to maximize his already jam-packed schedule.[4] He said,

‘I wake up by 5, meditate for 30 minutes, seven-minute workout times three, make coffee, and check-in.’

He said on Product Hunt that he follows this routine every day as it gives him a steady-state that empowers him to be more productive.

6. Manage Your Time as You Manage Your Finance

Another good habit is the act of managing your time effectively. This goes a long way to impact your achievement.

Time management is what separates the successful from the rest of the world as we all possess the same amount of time. How you leverage time determines your potential to succeed in life.

So how do you manage your time effectively?

Here’s Jack Dorsey’s recommendation in one of the Techonomy events;

“I accomplish effective time management by theming my days and practicing self-discipline. These themes help me handle distractions and interactions. If a request or task does not align with the theme for that day, I don’t do it. This sets a cadence for everyone in the company to deliver and evaluate their progress”.

And this is Dorsey’s weekly theme:[5]

  • Monday – Management
  • Tuesdays – Product
  • Wednesday – Marketing and growth
  • Thursdays – Developers and partnerships
  • Fridays – Culture and recruiting
  • Saturdays – Taking off
  • Sundays – Reflection, feedback, strategy, and preparing for Monday

No wonder he was able to run two companies when others were struggling with one job.

7. Set Daily Goals with Intentions

Everyone has goals. It may relate to business or personal life. The truth is, we’re all tending towards a particular direction or another. Nevertheless, while long-term goals can offer you direction, it’s your daily goals that you establish that help you develop short-term goals that are essential for your success.

Long-term goals may not give you the motivation you need to keep on. But when you implement your short-term milestones daily, you become fired up, and you can overcome the challenges that come with taking on bigger tasks.

Here’s the main truth:Successful people don’t set goals without establishing their intentions. According to Jennifer Cohen of Forbes,[6]

“What helps you to achieve your desired expectation is ensuring intentions accompany your daily goals.”

Be intentional about your daily goals!

8. Seek Inspiration

It is usually difficult to be inspired for a considerable length of time. Sometimes, you become discouraged and feel like giving up on your goals when things are not working out as intended.

A practical approach to stay on top of the situation is to inspire yourself each day. When you wake up in the morning after meditation, watch some motivational videos, and let the story of great leaders inspire you.

Establish what Anthony Robbins called the ‘hour of power.’ Determine how many minutes you spend but make it count. Inspiration is the fuel for achievement because when you can conceive it in your mind, you can accomplish it.

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Michal Solowow, an investor and the founder of Mitex, a construction company puts it this way,[7]

“The problems I encounter in everyday life motivates me to find solutions. This is a self-propelling mechanism. becoming a billionaire was never a motivating factor.”

9. Save Steadily, Invest with All Prudence

I can exhaust the good habits to have without talking about saving and investing. Most times, you overlook the significance of saving for the future when you are living in your present moment. According to CNBC, a $1000 emergency will propel several Americans into debt.[8]

However, it is not enough to save, and you must invest your fund and be wise with it. If you pay attention to this now, you will set yourself for a life of success in the future. Ensure you save at least six months in your emergency account so you can be prepared for any future emergency.

10. Budget and Track Your Spendings

Benjamin Franklin warned of taking the precaution of little expenses. He said,

“A small leak sinks a great ship.”

It is easy to discard little expenses, but the truth is they always add up. This happens when you fail to budget.

Budgeting is a good habit to have, which can impact your financial life significantly. The money you spend on extravagant lifestyles can be saved and invested in your future.

The Bottom Line

Endeavor to cultivate these good habits to have to become more successful as you journey through life. The quicker you cultivate them, the faster you achieve your goals.

More About Habits

Featured photo credit: Andrijana Bozic via unsplash.com

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Reference

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