9 Steps to Breaking A Bad Habit

If we can create a bad habit, then we also have the power to un-create it. Brook Noel

Almost everyone has some habit in their life that robs their day-to-day life of a little (or a lot) of joy. We might have a habit of showing up late, bottling up our emotions, smoking, eating excessively, not eating enough, avoiding exercise, drinking too much caffeine, spending too much time on a computer, blaming others, getting angry quickly, over-spending, not taking care of our selves, or many other non-helping habits.

Over time the word “habit” often becomes synonymous with “excuse.” We begin to feel that we can’t change an area because it is a “habit,” and stereotypically habits are hard to break. However, if we have the power to create a habit, then we also have the power to un-create it. How do we know if a habit needs to be broken? When it begins to negatively impact our relationships, self-esteem, finances, career, or any other area important to us, then a habit has become a hurt. Let’s look at strategies that can help rid ourselves of habits that hurt.

1. Clearly Define Your Habit and its Purpose: We don’t create negative habits for fun and to purposely complicate our lives. We create a habit because at the time of creation it seems to serve a purpose in our lives. Typically, we then outgrow the need for the behavior however we don’t relinquish the habit. The first step in breaking a bad habit is to clearly define what the habit is, when it started, and how long we have been engaging in it. We can’t mange or change what we don’t clearly understand, so get a working definition of your habit on paper along with your thoughts on why you created this habit in the first place.

2. Gather some basic background: Take a quick inventory of the past 12 months. Answer the following questions:

  • How much time did you spend keeping up this habit?
  • How much did this habit cost you?
  • What did this habit prevent you from doing?
  • Answering these questions can help us see the reality of the effect a particular habit has in our lives.

3. Fast Forward: As you conduct your habit analysis, imagine what you days would be like if you were rid of this habit? What would change? Write about how your life would be different. Write as much as you can about the benefits of changing your ways. Try to come up with at least 10 separate reasons for change. The more you think through the benefits (and write them down) the more solid the foundation you will have when you begin to implement change.

4. Track Your Habit: Grab a notebook and for the next week write down each time you engage in your habit. Note anything that might be influencing you like your thoughts, those around you, or how you felt physically or emotionally. Conducting this habit-audit let’s us see exactly how our habit is affecting us in our current day-to-day activities.

5. Make a Commitment: After you have completed the steps above it is time to clearly define what you want to change and how you want to change it. Make a detailed plan by breaking down the steps you need to take. It would be a bit unrealistic to say that in 4 weeks you don’t ever want to overspend. Dramatic overhauls often lead to “slips and relapses.” Try creating a multi-tiered plan for change. If the habit was overspending, choose and define your new goal. Then set milestones between where you are currently and where you would like to be. If you routinely overspend $100 a week, you could reduce your spending by $20 every other week, and in 2 months you would have a $20 spending budget each week.

6. Think it Though: Before your start date, think through the challenges you are likely to face. What might confuse you? What might cause you to run from new change? What might cause you to slip? Think of as many potential roadblocks as you can write them down. On your own, or with the help of others, brainstorm a solution for each of these roadblocks.

7. Tell Someone!: Once you have defined the change you want to make and chosen the steps to make it, then it is time to make a first commitment. On one piece of paper summarize the change, the benefit, and your action plan. Choose a start date. Tell someone what you are doing! None of us like to go back on our word. If we don’t tell anyone about the change we are contemplating it is easy to revamp and alter the plan at any time. If we tell someone and ask that they help us be accountable we are much more likely to succeed.

8. Begin! When your start date arrives, review your plan. Daily review the reasons for change that you created in Step 3. Rely on your support person for help when needed. If you find new roadblocks, add them to the list you created in Step 6.

9. Don’t let a slip become a fall: Often we have a little slip (or a big one) and that becomes a reason to abandon our plan all-together. DON’T! Just because you slipped today doesn’t mean you need slip tomorrow. Don’t let the shame of one setback be a reason to abandon your plan. Instead, add that as a roadblock and brainstorm a solution for the next time you face that specific scenario. Take the day off and then get back on track tomorrow!

Try it! What habit is holding you back? Use the strategies above to create an action plan for change.

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