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How to Break a Bad Habit in 21 Days (Or Less)

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How to Break a Bad Habit in 21 Days (Or Less)

Learning how to break a bad habit can be daunting as habits are often described with negative connotations:

“I’ve got so many bad habits.”

“I’ve picked up this bad habit where I’m always doing X.”

“I’ve noticed you have a habit of always doing Y.”

You rarely hear someone saying:

“I’ve got a really good habit that lets me do X.”

“I love that habit you have of always doing Y.”

Because the habits we’re aware of are often negative, we usually try to break them just by stopping them in one go, which is tough and not always the best solution.

All of the habits that have a positive impact on our lives tend to go unnoticed, which isn’t surprising since they often don’t present us with problems.

The trick for how to break a bad habit is to find an approach that works for you and the particular habit. Not all habits are created equally, and they can’t all be broken in the same way.

What Is a Habit?

A habit is a set of recurring tendencies that are often hard to give up and are usually performed subconsciously.

It’s essential to understand what a habit is before you start to try and break or change one. Luckily it’s straightforward, which helps when you need to recognize when you’re about to go into the habit loop. [1]

First, there is a trigger. This could be a location, a specific time of day, behaviour patterns of those around you, or just the emotional state you’re in.

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The trigger starts a routine, a routine you may not even know you’re following.

Finally, you get the reward or the result. The reward isn’t always the best word to use, certainly with negative habits, but this is what keeps you coming back to the habit over and over again.

Before you learn how to break a bad habit using the techniques described in this post, you should start by noting your triggers, routines, and rewards for each habit.

Once you know these three steps for each habit, you will have started to build a defense for fighting bad habits as you’ll recognise where you are in the habit loop.

How to Break a Bad Habit Quickly

When you’re ready to learn how to break a bad habit, the following tips can help.

1. Replace a Habit With a New One

Part of the habit is the routine that follows the initial trigger, so to reduce the impact of stopping a habitual behavior, you can replace it with another habit that has a more positive and healthy impact on your life.

Smoking is one of the most common habits people are looking to stop and a great example to use for this approach.

There are numerous things you could swap out for when you’re tempted to smoke. Some examples are:

  1. Chew a piece of gum
  2. Eat some fruit
  3. Get a drink
  4. Go for a walk
  5. Play with something in your hands

It depends on your situation, but for any habit replacement, the key is to distract yourself long enough that the temptation to perform the negative habit passes.

2. Celebrate the Small Successes

Breaking a habit can take time. It can depend on how many times per day or week you repeat the habit you want to break or how ingrained it is into your lifestyle.

Whether you can break a habit in 21 days or 21 weeks, you need to celebrate every day where you haven’t repeated the habit. If you can only manage two days before cracking, then celebrate those two days. Don’t expect to break every habit immediately. It takes time.

If you only managed two days on the first try, celebrate next time you make it to a week and so on.

Before you know it, you’ll look back and laugh at the fact you could only manage two days at the start!

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3. Change Your Identity

Habits are often hard to break as they’re typically based on changing how we act in everyday life or are linked to a healthy lifestyle change. These are both fine, but it is more difficult if our identity is fighting against these changes.

To make real significant changes in our lives, we have to start thinking about how we need to change our identity first.

For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, but you think of yourself as someone who always struggles with your weight (“It’s just who I am”), then you’re going to continue to struggle to lose weight. Try changing your thought to “I am capable of making positive changes” and see what happens.

One of the most common examples is a smoker saying something like, “I am a smoker trying to quit” or “I like being a smoker but I need to quit.”

It would be best if you decided on who you want to be in life; this is the first step of changing your identity. If you tell yourself you like being a smoker, it’s unlikely you will be successful in the change you’re seeking to make.

“I’m a non-smoker” or “I’m fit and healthy” are things you can say to yourself daily in your head, quietly to yourself and to others. You can slowly start to change how you identify with yourself.

You’ll back this up with small wins, a streak of a few days with no cigarettes or repeatedly going to the gym or eating better.

Changing your identity takes time, but it can be done.

4. Use Digital Tools to Your Advantage

Digital or just general cell phone use is one of the most well known habits that many of us are trying to cut down on.

Typically, it’s scrolling through social media without noticing how long we’ve been doing it, constantly getting distracted by notifications, or just picking up our cell phone to check it as a distraction from work or life in general.

However, digital tools can be used to help us break a habit, either through reminders to keep us on track or rewards when we’re changing or creating a new positive habit.

Keeping track of a newly formed habit in the form of a streak is a great way to keep you focused and motivated. There are plenty of streak apps out there which let you create a streak, set reminders, and receive mini visual rewards when you hit certain milestones.

Rather than cutting out social media completely, change the reward of a particular habit to a set time period to look at your social networks.

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By using social media on your terms rather than the other way around, it can become a positive addition to your life.

5. Use Visual Cues

One of the oldest and most effective ways for how to break a habit is through visual cues acting as reminders or rewards.

Placing visual reminders, cues, and trackers around your home gives you a cheap, easy, and effective way to keep your habits in the front of your mind. This could involve using a calendar on the fridge where you tick off every completed day since you’ve haven’t performed a negative habit, for example.

Something as simple as Post-It notes on the bedside table reminding you of your goal for that day can be a powerful mental cue to help you break a bad habit.

Visual cues are great as they become a habit in themselves. Taking the calendar on the fridge example, the trigger is seeing the calendar each morning. The routine is ticking off another day on the calendar, and then the reward is seeing the calendar filling up with ticks.

Simple but addictive!

6. Find a Habit-Crushing Partner

Breaking habits is hard, but finding support from a friend or partner can be incredibly helpful in keeping you focused on repeating your new habit or to stop you from repeating an old one.

Look at when your triggers typically happen and find a partner who will most likely be with you when these triggers occur. Have an open and honest discussion with them on what habit you’re trying to crush and explain how they can help.

Help from a partner could come in the following forms:

  1. Simply asking how you are doing with stopping your habit — this keeps the habit in the forefront so you don’t relapse.
  2. Helping you remove the triggers from the environment you share so the temptations are reduced.
  3. Sharing the new reward with you if you’re changing a habit rather than removing it.
  4. Finding a habit your both want to stop and doing it together.

7. Stack Your Habits

Stacking habits is a quick win when it comes to creating new positive habits.

We have thousands of tiny habits we do every day without even realizing it. This could be actions involved in brushing your teeth, the steps of making a cup of coffee when you first get up, putting the radio on when you go in the kitchen, etc.

As we already have thousands of habits we do every day, we can add new habits on top of them.

For example, if your goal is to learn 10 minutes of French each day, you do this after you’ve made your coffee each morning. If your goal is to practice visualization each day, you spend 3 minutes doing so when your alarm goes off each morning.

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It’s that simple: link old habits to new ones.

8. Visualize New Habits

Visualization can help with breaking habits. However, the important part isn’t visualizing the outcome but visualizing the process or the routines you need to create to achieve it.

A study from UCLA found exactly this by comparing students who visualized the process necessary to achieve their goal versus visualizing the actual achievement of the goal. They found that students who did the former enhanced studying techniques and improved grades. [2]

Practising visualization also helps to reduce anxiety around breaking a habit. In some cases, the habit you’re trying to break might cause you stress simply by thinking about it.

Visualizing a positive routine helps with this, even if you do it for only 2-3 minutes a day.

9. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is about being present in the moment and being aware of your thoughts and can, therefore, be a useful tool when learning how to break a bad habit.

By practicing mindfulness and becoming more aware of your triggers, you will increase the likelihood of success in breaking the habit. By recognizing the trigger before you go into the habit of the routine, you’ll be able to break the habit far quicker.

Mindfulness doesn’t mean you fight or block these thoughts. It simply allows you to engage with them in a more productive way.

The Bottom Line

Everyone is different, so try different approaches when it comes to breaking habits. If you fail, look at why, adapt, and try again, and don’t forget to celebrate what you have done well.

Remember that the basics of changing a habit can include these five steps:

  1. Identify the habit you want to break or change.
  2. Discover what is triggering this habit.
  3. Identify the routine that follows the trigger.
  4. Define the reward you are getting for following the routine.
  5. Pck an element to change depending on whether you want to break or change the habit.

To break a bad habit in 21 days, you need to replace something you do many times a day, and this can be a difficult but worthwhile process.

By staying mindful of what does and doesn’t work for you, you can begin to create the lifestyle you have always wanted.

More Tips on Breaking Bad Habits

Featured photo credit: NeONBRAND via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Ben Willmott

Productivity and Project Management blogger for at work and at home

How to Set OKRs to Keep Your Goals on Track How to Compartmentalize to Live a Stress-Free and Successful Life Why You Can’t Focus and 20 Things You Can Do to Fix It 5 Steps (And 4 Techniques) for Effective Problem Solving 8 Essential Project Management Skills for Productive Work

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Published on September 21, 2021

How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

Reference

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