Most of us struggle with bad habits. In this article, I’m going to discuss 7 strategic areas of consideration that’ll lead to a successful and pain-free habit change.
Have you made a mistake of trying to break a bad habit alone, relying solely on your will power and motivation?
And more often than not, I did fail, and it really damaged my self-esteem.
Recently, I was reading my kids The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Habit. In it, Mama Bear explains that a habit is like a groove she made on her path to garden with her wheelbarrow. She has taken the same path over and over again, that the groove has gotten deep. Since it’s exactly in a place where the single wheel of the wheelbarrow travels, it’s hard not to go into the groove, making it even deeper each time. It’s gotten deep enough that once in, she can’t get the wheel out in the middle of the path by herself.
Breaking a deeply ingrained bad habit is like trying to climb a solid wall that’s higher than you. Can you lift yourself up with just your will power?
The 7 Keys to Breaking Bad Habits
In an article titled “Habit Change Is Like Chess” and also in his book Personal Development for Smart People, Steve Pavlina discusses that the key to successfully breaking bad habits lies in strategy, not determination. When you thoroughly map out your strategy for change, determination becomes just one of the ingredients, not the sole driver.
So what goes into a successful strategy for breaking bad habits? Let’s take a common example — changing a bad eating habit. You want to stop eating junk food.
Here are 7 critical areas to consider:
- Reduce Stress. Bad habits often form as a compensator/coping mechanism for stresses in your life. Reduce/remove external sources of stress, so you don’t have to compensate for it. Eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, exercise. Don’t underestimate the stress of boredom — not being properly stimulated regularly is a stressful state to your body. This will help boost your internal resource in holding up a higher standard for yourself.
- Optimize Your Environment. First of all, you need to set up an environment optimized for your habit change. Toss out all junk food, tell your family/roommates not to bring in any. Change your paths so you’re not driving/walking by places that sell junk food, and stop carrying loose cash so you’re not tempted to spend it on vending machines.
- Prepare a Replacement. Don’t just drop a habit and leave an empty space where that’s used to being filled. Prepare an alternative, a better replacement. In case of food, treat yourself to healthier and more delicious snacks. Eat more of your big meals so you’re not hungry. Make it so that you have no reason to revert to your bad habit — you have something that makes you feel better and still fill the same void! Make this replacement easily available, so whenever you’re tempted, you can easily grab it.
- Define a Time Frame. Of course, your overall goal is to change habits forever, but to aim for forever from the beginning is too overwhelming. There is a good reason why 30-day trial (another Pavlina-ism) has become a standard among PD/SI community. Pick a manageable time frame where that’s long enough to create a new groove on your path.
- Remove Ambiguity and Make It Measurable. Along with a time frame, be sure to define your habit change clearly and set up metrics to make sure you can measure it. If you’re fighting junk food, write down the list of food that is getting banned from your life, or define what is “junk food” for you.
- Make Yourself Accountable. Tell other people of your 30-day challenge and ask them to hold you accountable. The more people know about your habit change, the better.
- Give Yourself a Reward. In addition to a replacement, prepare a nice reward at the completion. Make it something really good, something you don’t usually allow yourself to have. Make it available right on the day after you complete your time frame, and think about it everyday.
Conclusion: Move in for the Kill
After you thoroughly set up your tactics in all 7 areas, then commence your habit change. When you build this much scaffolding around your success, it’s going to be impossible to fail.
I’m sure there are other great tips for successful habit change. What bad habits have you successfully broken in your life? And what was the key ingredient in that success?