We all want to break bad habits we’d rather not have. Do you check your phone constantly, even in the midst of a conversation or a business meeting? Do you snack late at night and watch the pounds creep on accordingly? These are just two examples of bad habits.
It can prove incredibly difficult to break bad habits. Bad habits are, after all, habits. When an action becomes habitual, you may genuinely not realize you’re doing it at first. Think about it. You already have your phone in your hand. The refrigerator is open, and the ice cream is already halfway to your lips. To break bad habits like this, you have to arrest yourself before you indulge.
Secondly, the underlying causes of bad habits often stem from stress or boredom. So when you feel stressed or bored, the impetus to indulge once more remains very strong. To break bad habits, you need a plan that counteracts the impulse to indulge.
How do you develop a plan? Here are six steps.
1. Start Small
Any plan to break bad habits can’t rely on major changes. If you like to snack at night, for example, you can’t totally swear off any snacking. Smartphone use can’t completely stop dead in its tracks if continuous checking is an issue for you. Large scale changes simply aren’t sustainable. The day will come when you go crazy binging late at night, or bring your phone back from hiding.
Make a plan to scale back in a small way. If you can, substitute something that can alleviate your boredom or stress, but isn’t bad for you. For snacks, substitute carrots for sugary foods. For smartphone distraction, plan to use the smartphone at certain times during the day. Check e-mails at lunch and when the work day ends, for example, but turn your smartphone off the rest of the time.
2. Know Your Triggers
Bad habits begin for a reason. You may eat because food constantly remains present and fills a void. You may have begun smartphone distraction because your phone was in easy reach. But also, if we’re honest, business meetings can be boring. You can only talk about the sales reports for so long.
Make a list of reasons why you indulge in the bad habit you’re trying to break. Be specific. Get all the data you need to be aware of what can send you right back into same old, same old of the bad habits department.
3. Plan to Minimize the Triggers
After you’ve made a list of your triggers, make a specific plan for how to minimize them. No plan to break bad habits will succeed if it doesn’t account for what drives you to them! Some people call this an “if, then” plan. “If” your trigger occurs, “then” you plan what you will do.
If you overeat because of stress, for example, your “then” plan could include dancing to music to eliminate stress, rather than hitting the refrigerator. If you hit the smartphone because of boredom, your “when” could involve daydreaming about an upcoming vacation, or vowing to hit the squash courts after work.
4. Log Your Progress
Everyone needs a pat on the back occasionally. People trying to break bad habits are no exception. One method of patting yourself on the back involves making a log of your progress. Make a “yes list.” It’s a log of every day of the week. If you’ve stuck to your plan that day, whether it’s carrots for snacks or smartphone out only at lunch and 5:30, you mark a “Y” in that day. If you fell off the wagon, it remains blank.
It can be very soothing to look at a week and see a solid line of Y’s marching across it! Conversely, the log also highlights challenging areas. Can you almost never mark a Y on Friday, for example? Stress or boredom might build up over the week, making giving in to the relief of bad habits insurmountable for that day. If you know your weakness in advance, you can plan for it.
5. Visualize Yourself Succeeding
The chances of any improvement plan succeeding rise with your ability to believe you can do it. Doubt sinks any plan to break bad habits. So visualize yourself succeeding.
Do you want cutting back on snacks to result in a 10-pound weight loss? Find an old bathing suit picture and put it on the refrigerator. You’re going back to it. Was your business meeting smartphone distraction a reason your annual performance review was less than it should have been? Visualize your manager praising you for improvement.
6. Reward Yourself
While breaking bad habits is its own reward, it’s also a good long-term idea to have a reward plan. Give yourself something for each solid month of Y’s. Make a list of rewards you would like. It can be everything from a Bahamas vacation to a big screen television. Then, plan when the rewards will become yours, provided you’ve broken your bad habit.
Breaking bad habits isn’t easy, but it can be done. Use these steps to plan and monitor your progress. Reward yourself at the end!
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