Bad habits affect our lives in many different ways. They can be as simple as chewing your nails or checking emails too often. Or more serious habits like smoking or drinking too much alcohol. And then there’s those really annoying people who seem to sail through life and everything is easy. They don’t skip workouts. They’re consistent with their diet and refuse the temptations of after-dinner couch snacks. They have successful careers. They’re just so damn perfect. But what if I told you these people weren’t actually born with ironclad self-discipline? What if I told you they developed it? It’s time you knew the truth: willpower is a myth. Eliminating bad habits simply requires you to identify triggers and rewards, and replace them with new ones. Here’s how to do it.
Identify the trigger:
Stress and boredom are among the top reasons that enable bad habits to develop. To identify exactly what causes your specific habit, you need to figure out the cues. Your cues are the situations that trigger whatever your bad habit is. So think about the moments right before you do that naughty thing you no longer want to do: what time is it? Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing? How do you feel? The answer to one (or more) of these questions is your cue. Now that you’ve identified it, cut out as many triggers as you can. Eat too many cookies after dinner? Throw them all away. Check your social media first thing in the morning? Leave your phone in the kitchen for the night. Now that you know your triggers, it’s time to work a replacement that gives you the same ‘reward’.
Identify the reward
Your reward is the satisfaction you get from not doing what you know you should be. What craving is that behaviour satisfying? For example, do you indulge on chocolates because eating them makes you feel less stressed? Do you frequently order takeout because it’s easy and you’re too tired to cook a meal? This part of the process may require a bit of thought, but it’s important you understand what benefits your bad habits achieve so you can replace them with good habits that reward you in the same way. Once you’ve identified your trigger and reward, it’s time to take action.
As is the case with setting and achieving any goal, it’s critical to have a plan of action. Here are eight simple steps to help you kick your bad habits for good:
- Write down your bad or unproductive habits – putting it in writing gives it concrete recognition)
- Identify triggers – write them down, too
- For every trigger, identify a positive habit you can replace it with (that achieves the same reward as the bad one)
- For the next four weeks, focus on being as consistent with your triggers and new habit as possible
- Avoid situations where your bad habits are enabled
- Accept that your urges will be strong and you’ll want to return to old habits, but those urges won’t last forever and they’ll disappear after a few minutes
- Ask for help – having family, friends or co-workers on board is a helpful way to stay motivated and accountable for your actions
- Stay positive and don’t give up! If you fail (which we all will at some point), figure out what went wrong and develop strategies to overcome that obstacle next time.
Ultimately, breaking bad habits does require some time and effort, but it’s certainly not a case of having unbreakable willpower. It’s simply just perseverance. We all fail at times – multiple times, in fact; but just because you don’t succeed the first time doesn’t mean you won’t succeed at all. Nothing will change unless you do – and you can do it!