Breaking bad habits

Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “Old habits die hard.” And while it can feel like you’ll never be able to break bad habits, it isn’t impossible; it just takes time and consistent effort, with the realization that you may get off track from time to time. So, let’s talk about what it really takes to deep-six the habits that no longer serve you well.

Are your habits serving you?

First, you need to determine whether your habits contribute positively to the life you want to lead. Do this by writing down the habits you’ve adopted over the years, and then ask yourself, does this habit…

  • Keep me from moving forward?

  • Benefit my physical or mental health?

  • Create significant meaning in my life?

  • Produce long-term consequences?

  • Control my life choices?

  • Produce other good or bad habits?

  • Need to change?

Answering these questions will help you separate your good habits from the bad. And once you’ve realized the difference between the two, it’s time to get to work breaking the bad habits.

Focus on the why

Take time to consider why you want to change a bad habit. Does it produce poor mental or physical health outcomes? Do you spend more money than you make? Write down why you want to change your habits and place it somewhere you’ll see daily.

Identify your triggers

What actions provoke your bad habits? Does stress cause you to overeat or bite your nails? Does a bad day lead you to inhale an entire bag of chocolates? Pay attention to what triggers your bad habit so you can change how you react to it.

Replace the bad habit with a good habit

Instead of going cold turkey on a bad habit, try replacing it with a better option. If you tend to procrastinate and lack the motivation to get started on a task, set a timer for 10 minutes and work until the timer goes off. Or, if you’re always rushing out the door in the morning, prepare your lunch the night before.

Use reminders

Leave notes for yourself or set reminders on your phone to help you stay on track. If you need to remember to take nutritional supplements, set a reminder for the same time each day. Or, if you’re trying to create a better nighttime routine, write a list of what you need to do each night and place it somewhere you’ll be sure to see it.

Create a support system

Breaking habits and developing new ones can be overwhelming, so ensure you have someone to call when you need reassurance or support. When you find yourself falling back into a bad habit, call or text your support system so they can help keep you on track and remind you of your why.

Give yourself grace

No matter how hard you try, you may slip up from time to time. And that’s OK. Your goal should be progress—not perfection. Just because you make a mistake, it’s not a complete setback. Acknowledge it and continue to move forward. Alexander Pope put it quite eloquently when he said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”

Be patient with your progress

Don’t set your expectations so high that you think you’ll be done with a bad habit within a week. You’ve probably heard that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. While that may be true for some, it doesn’t factor in how long you’ve had the habit, if other behaviors enforce the habit, what rewards you get from the habit or how motivated you are to change.

Reward progress

Don’t forget to reward your progress toward making positive changes. This can help motivate you to continue moving forward in banishing your bad habits. Celebrating small achievements is essential on your journey toward transformation.

Remember that making changes takes time. And any progress—no matter how slow— is progress. Keep referring to your why, pinpoint your triggers, be patient and give yourself grace. You can do this.

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