Our habits tend to run our daily lives. Whether or not you realize it, most of our habits, in one way or another, can end up running or even begin ruining our lives. From how you habitually spend your day, money, time, to how you interact in your relationships. Almost all of our day is made up of small habits that we’ve formed over a lifetime.
Good habits often go unnoticed; they don’t get in the way of our days, and more often than not, they help us to achieve the fulfillment of some kind. The negative or unhealthy ones, however, can be at best annoyances, and at worst be detrimental mental and physical health.
Once we realize that these unhealthy habits exist, our next question is usually, “why am I like this? Why do I still do this if I know it’s bad for me?”. It can be tricky to get into a headspace to say goodbye forever to our bad habits altogether. What are those first steps to leaving those bad habits for good?
1. Get Specific
It’s easy to think too broadly about certain behaviors you’d like to change. It’s tempting to tell yourself you’d like to be a better partner or get more exercise, but you’re not getting down to the nitty-gritty of those negative habits. It’s best to keep it specific at first. Instead of saying, “I want to change as a whole or do more of this or that”, give yourself specific goals that will help you find your path to healthier habits.
For example, if you have the bad habit of being a little lazy, or not getting enough exercise, your first goal should be to walk or run for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. It’s a small start, but a start nonetheless. It’s this specific, concrete and obtainable goal that leads to the bettering of a previously negative habit.
2. What Are You Getting from It?
We tend to keep those unhealthy habits around because, when used, they give us something in return. Next time you catch yourself in the middle of an unwanted habit, try and pinpoint what you’re getting from it. Does your habit give us some sort of satisfaction, alleviation of stress, or comfort? Maybe you haven’t even realized that you’re using a habit as a coping device or even a defense mechanism.
Don’t overthink this portion of the process. You don’t have to psychoanalyze yourself to understand why your habit of nail-biting may be working to help you curb your momentary anxiety and how it’s become more than just a habit over the years. Taking note of the “what” behind a habit can help you later in finding healthier ones to replace them down the road.
3. Analyze and Acknowledge Your Triggers
Whether they’re great or small we all have triggers, and those triggers make quitting bad habits all the more difficult. If you have a habit of overindulging on junk food more often then you should, seeing a big bag of potato chips in your pantry may be a small trigger. It may not always be as straight forward as this though. If you notice that one bad habit ultimately triggers another bad habit, you’ll have several to analyze and acknowledge. Rid yourself of the obvious triggers. The ones that are broader, may take more time to pin down. Start specific and broaden your search from there. Getting comfortable in acknowledging the small triggers will make the bigger ones feel far less daunting and out of your control.
4. Find a Healthy Replacement
After you’ve broken down your bad habits, evaluated your triggers, and made specific goals for change, it’s time to find healthy habits to take the place of the older ones.
- It’s not enough to rid yourself of a habit. In actuality, you’re not ending a habit as much as developing and substituting it for a better, healthier one. You’re not losing something, but gaining something greater. It’s far easier to end a habit if there’s something else in its place.
- Come up with strategies to combat those trigger moments. It may be tough to figure out the perfect plan of action when you’re thrown into situations where you feel your bad habits have power over you, but you’ll have the upper hand if you have some idea of how you’ll handle them when they arise. Whatever your vice may be, map out how you would normally get from the seemingly neutral Point A to the negative Point B and find a way to reroute yourself to a different and positive Point C.
5. Build Yourself Back Up
It’s easy to put yourself down after a few inevitable slipups. On your journey to breaking a bad habit, it’s vital to be kind to yourself. You’re working toward a goal of finding a better you, helping your mental and physical health, and changing your mindset for the better. We are, all of us, flawed. We will make mistakes, we will take wrong turns, and it might take us some time to get to our concluding destination. Just trying is enough, but always remember to challenge yourself if you feel you need it.
6. Find Support & Be Patient
Get support, from friends and family. If you feel you can’t support your goals on your own just yet, find an accountability buddy to help you get a jumpstart. In fact, don’t be afraid to ask for help in whatever compacity you might need it.
The support you can provide for yourself is vastly important to your overall goals. It takes time for your brain to “kick the habit” so to speak, and it may take time for new patterns or habits to replace the old. Take it a day at a time and be patient with yourself.