Bad habits; we all have them. You are probably well aware of what they are and how they impact you in a negative way. The problem is for the overwhelming majority of us, bad habits are a way of life and they are hard to break, sometimes we even feel powerless to break the chain of bad habits. However, let me show you how important it is to your success that you not only squash bad habits, but create new empowering habits to replace them. And, in the process increase your productivity tenfold.
In a 2006 research study from Duke University, it showed that more than 40% of what you do every day isn’t a decision — it’s a habit. If we’re on autopilot for almost half the day, wouldn’t we want those routines to be good ones? When I wrote my book, “Success with Goals, Designing Your Life with Purpose”, I specifically called out that as much as goal-setting is important, recognizing that you control your destiny by making better conscious choices each day, is even more important.
By allowing your subconscious mind to lead you through your day with a series of habits, you are likely not getting the most out of each day, particularly if you have several poor or unempowering habits. This is a major reason why so many people don’t make progress on big life goals and eventually give up. So today, I have included a list of ways to help you change a bad habit:
1. The first step in analyzing any problem is to first recognize that you have a problem.
What I mean is, you must admit to yourself that you do in fact have a few bad habits that you would honestly like to break and even replace with better more productive habits. This self-assessment must be of your own accord, it can’t be someone else telling you, “You should fix this bad habit”. Certainly, you can get help and support, but this must be your idea, and you must want to change, or absolutely nothing will change.
Additionally, you must realize that you likely have some bad habits that you have not uncovered, yet. Often, people have bad habits and they don’t even realize it. So, realize that you may need some assistance to recognize some of your bad habits. Either way, start by assessing your day and how you spend your time. Take a week or two and challenge yourself with some basic journaling, write down everything you do, and try to understand why you are doing it. For instance, do you multitask to the point of being unproductive? Do you immediately reach for your phone when you wake up each day? Whatever it is, just take stock first, so you know what you are dealing with, before we try to fix anything.
After recognizing any potential dis-empowering habits, during this assessment period, now you can analyze and see why you may have created these poor habits. Remember, we didn’t create them because we said, “hey, this is a really dumb thing for me to do, so let’s do it”. There actually was some good intention behind doing what you did the first couple of times, however, at some point that task became a habit that is most likely not serving you anymore. So, try and uncover as many of those things as you can, and just make yourself aware of these bad habits.
2. Don’t try and change the bad habit yet, just count how many times per day you do it.
Initially, don’t try and change the bad habit, just recognize how many times per day you do the act, and ideally try to only do it the same number of times each day. For instance, if you go to Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, incessantly, how many times is that each day, and what often brings on the urge to do so? Now, you will be aware of that trigger, and you can count how many times per day you have the urge or tendency to fall to that bad habit.
By recognizing that you go to Instagram 17 times per day for an average of 4 minutes, you would be able to ascertain that you likely waste over an hour per day to get your Instagram fix. Now, you can begin to monitor that and decide, could I cut that back to just 5 times per day for 5 minutes? This alone would save you over 30 minutes of wasted time each day. By knowing this, it creates leverage that you will need to realize how disempowering that habit is, and how important it will be for you to break it.
3. Now we are ready to make some changes, change a single bad habit.
All of us have likely felt at one time or another that our lives are just a series of bad habits. You get up late, you skip the gym, you grab fast food for breakfast, you rush your kids off, you get home late from work, you again order something quick for dinner, rush through parenting duties, and now you’re so exhausted, you collapse back in bed and start it all over again.
However, most of us would look at that scenario and say, “Tomorrow I will do it different”, tomorrow comes and guess what, nope, that is not what happens. You can’t change everything at once, it needs to be a progression of changes. Literally, one at a time.
Do less. Just focus on fixing one thing at a time. If it took you months and likely years to get where you are, multiple years of bad habits developed and then reinforced, what is the likelihood that you will change them in a day or two? HA! Good luck. But, if you just select one that you can really isolate and pick on, one to challenge and ideally one that likely leads to other less than desirable habits, then that is where you start!
You don’t need to overhaul your life. Just kill one bad habit. Give it a month and then move on to the next. After a year you could have killed off and replaced 12 bad habits. And despite how frustrated you may feel now, I can assure you, squashing and replacing 12 bad habits will have an amazing impact on your life.
4. Don’t change you, change your environment.
Remember that habits are created for a reason, however, they are reinforced by our environment. What this means is that you likely made it much easier for you to continue with your bad habits by surrounding yourself with crutches to ensure that this bad habit is easy to get back to.
Example: You want to get on Instagram to see who is posting what, and who is doing what, and what cool pictures there are, etc. To do this you likely downloaded the Instagram app on your phone, right? Well, what if that app wasn’t on your phone, how less likely would you be to grab your phone and jump into that application? Same thing for Facebook, or twitter, or Snapchat. What if you had to download that app every day before checking it, would that slow your role in jumping on your phone to see who commented on your last picture?
Remember, I said that habits were created for a reason, here is a real-life example:
When I started my blog and was trying to grow my followers, I downloaded Facebook to my phone so that when I ran an ad, I could see how it was doing and who was following me, and how many comments I got. Well, after a while, I found myself, logging in to check my stats, but then found I was spending 5 times more time clicking on what I like to call “Shiny Objects”.
Since I am in the coaching realm, I see adds for how to grow your clients by 500%, or similar teasers. As such, I found myself spending as much as an hour a day reviewing these different sites on how to increase my customers. So, rather than doing what I knew I needed to do, which was write and provide good content, I was wasting time scanning Facebook. I can write a blog in about an hour generally, which means every day I was wasting an hour looking at material that was possibly valuable, vs. writing a blog a day which was exceptionally valuable. So instead of having 250 blogs written for the year, I had more like 50.
Imagine what you could do with all that additional time. Think about your environment, what else to you do to support bad habits? Do you have the local pizza number posted on your fridge, or more likely these days in your favorites on your phone or in your search favorites? If you stop to analyze like I said in Step # 1, you will find tens if not hundreds of crutches to reinforce some of your worst habits. Could you get rid of a bunch of these and even better replace them with new empowering short-cuts for making better decisions? You know you could…
Countless studies show that the biggest culprit to bad habits, either creating or reinforcing one, is stress. Worse yet, managing stress for most people is a matter of going to a comfortable place, where we don’t feel challenged. That is why so many people turn to TV or the internet to escape the stress, anxiety, and frustration of our daily lives.
I’m sure you have all heard the phrase comfort food, when people are stressed they also turn to food, and guess what, these likely aren’t salads and healthy food, they are carb laden, likely processed, heavy foods that will take hours to digest and have an even more negative effect. Instead, when you are stressed, go to the gym, get in a good workout and after, you will be far more likely to eat healthy and you will feel immensely better about yourself and certainly better prepared to deal with that stress.
They key here is to understand that you will have to deal with and handle stress in life. There is no simple one size fits all solution to manage stress and relax, you must find what works best for you. Exercise is often an appropriate solution, for others it might be meditation, and for others still it might be just talking about your stress with someone like a coach or mentor. The stress of our daily lives won’t likely get easier in the future and trying to avoid stress is impossible. You must realize it is part of life, so learn how to manage and cope with stress, this is a far better solution than trying to isolate yourself from stress, because that simply won’t ever happen.
6. Don’t eliminate bad habits. Replace them.
Ironically, studies show that simply saying, “I’ll never do that again” makes you even more likely to do that again. This is exactly why New Year’s resolutions fail so badly. To make a bold statement to never do something again, which by the way, is a bad goal to begin with, you are almost assuredly going to repeat this poor action again. The key to changing those bad habits is to replace them with new empowering habits.
Going back to what I mentioned about bad habits were originally created for good reasons, you must understand why you created that habit in the first place. If you chew your nails, you don’t likely do that because you are hungry, this is a stress trigger that for some reason, you began to put your fingers in your mouth and chew on your nails. What are you doing that is causing this stress trigger to fire off, what are you thinking about, where are you in your headspace and most importantly is it just a coping mechanism, or is there an intended effect?
Rather than putting oils on your fingers or trying to wear gloves, understand why you are doing this in the first place and fix the problem at the core. Then create a new habit to replace that old bad habit. This goes for being late, procrastinating, over-eating, and every other bad habit you feel compelled to resolve. If you have a sweet tooth, rather than grabbing that cookie or pie, try going for a similarly sweet orange or banana. If that doesn’t work at first try eating sugar-free cookies and pies, it won’t be ideal, but it will be an improvement, continue this process until a simple apple suffices for that bad habit of grabbing a candy bar.
7. Planning, or as otherwise introduced to me - “If” and “Then”.
This one just simply makes sense to me, and like the change your environment concept, this one has a huge multiplier impact to effectively resolving bad habits. Changing your environment requires planning, but with this idea of planning, what I am suggesting is to think through how you will handle the inevitable challenges you will face while trying to squash the old bad habit and replace it with a new empowering habit.
By using this phrase “If / Then”, just like you do for math or a programing language, you can create a command to yourself on how to handle a particular scenario. In a sense you are reprograming your subconscious mind to assist you in changing this bad habit. “IF this happens, THEN I will do this”, for instance, if I get hungry, then I will eat my next prepared snack or meal. This requires me to prepare those meals in advance and plan for what I know will be the inevitable hunger urges while I am trying to lose weight.
This process continues to the smallest detail, and the more you think this through, the more likely you can prepare for the most challenging of situations. So, I brought my food for my lunch today, but everyone is going to lunch at a nearby restaurant to celebrate our boss’s birthday. You don’t want to be the socially awkward one and you likely need to make your presence, so today you plan to bring your food in the container and ask the restaurant to warm up your food. Or, you can choose a meal off the menu that meets your qualifications, and then only eat half of it.
The key here is to use this logic to prepare and plan for every likely obstacle in trying to break bad or establish new habits that you will encounter before they ever come up. This kind of contingency thinking is utilized by some of the best thinkers and negotiators, because if you consider every likely angle that might come up, you will most certainly be prepared when it does.
There are a fair amount of studies regarding those that use this “If/Then” processing, showing that on average those that embark using this tactic are 50% to 100% more likely to achieve their result. Give me double the odds over my competition any day and I’m sold.
8. Recognize you are not perfect.
You’re going to screw up. And that’s okay. We all falter from time to time. However, after having spent time recognizing what bad habits you have and analyzing why you do them. Creating plans to overcome and replace those bad habits, learning how best to deal with stress, and solutions on how best to overcome your obstacles, if you slip up it will be nothing more than a momentary lapse in judgement and move on. You will accomplish nothing by beating yourself up by saying, “See, I knew that wouldn’t work, I am just an over-eater, or procrastinator”, etc.
If anything, that type of negative self-talk with undermine any progress you may have had and set you beck weeks or months. As I said earlier, changing a bad habit is a process, and if you built these bad habits, likely for good reasons, over months and years, it will most certainly take some time to undo that work.
Be patient, most of all with yourself. I don’t mean be easy on yourself, don’t give in and quit, or allow yourself to make excuses and keep starting over, but if you slip up, allow yourself to be human, but get right back at it and move forward. Reassess your “If / Then” strategy and see if you can find a better solution for next time.
9. Peer Pressure.
Peer pressure is a good thing — when you use it strategically. When you were a kid your parents wanted you to hang out with the smart kids in school because they provided good examples. Turns out, your parents were right. It’s simple, hang out with people who you want to be like. Procrastinate a lot? Spend more time with uber-productive friends. Want to get in shape? Hang around those healthy-eating gym addicts. Whatever you are trying to change about yourself, there is likely a group of people working through the same thing that you can jump into and get help from.
Additionally, you can reach out and use your existing connection of friends and family, if they are supportive, and ask them to hold you accountable to your new ambitions. Explain why you are doing it and what you hope to ascertain from these challenges and your friends and family will usually be more than willing to help.
Lastly, a good coach or mentor will be able to help with something like this and more specifically, be able to provide insight to tips, tricks, and strategies for best ways to handle the challenges as they come up. At the same time, they can be there to support you when you inevitably trip up, and celebrate with you when you achieve those new empowering habits that take you to your goals and help you find the success you are looking for in your life!
Hope this helps. I’d be excited to hear about your thoughts, please feel free to comment and provide feedback.
Have a phenomenal week!