Bad habits, though seemingly innocent enough, can negatively impact several areas of your life. From harming your physical and mental health to hurting your relationships with others, they often act as a silent destroyer. So why do we partake in them, and if they’re so terrible, why can’t we just drop them?
Habits provide benefit, even if they are bad. For instance, smoking and excessive drinking provide temporary stress relief and small bursts of happiness. Uncontrollable shopping offers fleeting feelings of gratification. Staying in a relationship, no matter how bad it is, can make you feel loved. Because bad habits are “beneficial” (in the loosest sense of the word), you need to replace them — not eliminate them. For this reason, finding an alternative action is the first step on your journey to freedom.
1. Find a Substitute
When you drop a habit you’ve held onto for so long, you may find that the time you would have spent engaging in it is now characterized by boredom or stress. To prevent this from happening, you need to plan ahead of time how you will fill the void.
When you can no longer smoke, what will you do? When you don’t have that nightly glass of wine, what will you drink instead? When you stop biting your nails, how will you respond to stress? To find a suitable replacement, you need to identify the core of your bad habit, which leads us to step two.
2. Determine the Core
Identifying the core of your habit may sound overwhelming, but the truth is that just about any habit, good or bad, has three basic components: the trigger, the routine and the reward.
The trigger is the event, feeling, location or time that makes you want to engage in the behavior. Stress is the most common trigger, though anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness also top the list. Next, assess the routine. If your bad habit consists of scrolling through Facebook for an hour before bedtime, that’s the routine. The reward is likely the feeling of connectivity you get when you see photos of friends or long-ago acquaintances.
By identifying the trigger, the routine and the reward, you can replace your actions with a similarly gratifying, yet far healthier, habit.
3. Cut Out Triggers
It’s impossible to cut out all triggers. After all, life is bound to have its stressful moments, and there will be times when you feel sad or lonely. However, you can change the way you deal with habits by eliminating physical triggers.
If you want to quit smoking, throw out the remainder of your smokes. If you tend to binge eat junk food when you feel stressed, toss out the cookies, ice cream and candy, and replace them with various fruits and healthy snacks. If you scroll through social media before bedtime, set up a charging station away from your bed and place a pile of books beside your reading lamp. Though it will be difficult, with some willpower and determination, you can take control of your bad habit.
4. Surround Yourself With People Who Support Your Goals
Trying to break a bad habit on your own is difficult, especially if you continue to hang around with people who engage in the very actions you’re trying to free yourself of. While you shouldn’t ditch your current friends or family members, you should try to associate with like-minded people — at least for the time being. Not only will doing so help you avoid triggering situations, but also it will ensure you receive the support you need to succeed.
Breaking a bad habit won’t be easy, but it will be well worth it. Once you free yourself of its grip, you’ll find you feel better — both physically and mentally — and that you have more energy to devote to activities that add value to your life.