Changing Bad Habits

Habits allow us to do all sorts of things. We can make breakfast while talking on the phone without having to focus (consciously) on every step.

The dark side of habits rears its ugly head when you try to change them. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

Here are six things you can do to help change your habits.

1) Replace doing something with doing something else. Rather than trying to keep yourself from doing your habit all the time, try to create a new habit that operates in the same situation. If you are trying to stop biting your nails, buy a nail file and file them instead. Whenever you are in a situation where you used to bite your nails, train yourself to do something else.

2) Engage a friend. Your own willpower breaks down easily, so enlist help. If you’re trying to quit smoking, let your friends know. …

3) Make yourself think. Habits want to work on autopilot. So, when you’re trying to change your behavior, set things up so that your autopilot doesn’t work. If you are trying to lose weight, then rearrange the dishes in your kitchen. That way, none of the habitual ways that you ate at home before will work. You’ll have to think about every step of the eating process, and that gives you a chance to add new behaviors.

4) Change your environment. If there are locations or friends that are consistently part of your bad habit, then try to avoid those places or people while you are changing your habit. Those people and places will call the habit to mind, so make it easier on yourself for the first few weeks. …

5) Remember that habit change isn’t perfect. It can be stressful to try to change a habit, and sometimes you will fail. You might slip a cigarette, bite your nails or eat foods that are not part of your diet. Just remember that your goal is to change your behavior in the long term. Don’t treat a small failure as a complete failure. …

6) Take your time. The last thing to remember is that you didn’t develop your habits over night. The most persistent habits are ones that have built up over years. Those years have made the bad habit feel comfortable. You aren’t going to undo all of those years of practice in a couple of weeks. …

Source: Markman, Art. Changing Habits Beautifully

Still curious? The best books on the subject are The Power of Habit and Willpower.