From drinking and smoking to being critical of others and ourselves, there is no question that bad habits get in the way of our health and happiness. As anyone who has quit alcohol or given up cigarettes knows, leaving a bad habit behind can be a major challenge—one that often requires several attempts before a successful outcome is achieved. However, the feeling of accomplishment that occurs when the goal of quitting is reached is definitely worth the effort. The good news: there is a lot of research to ensure success.
Suggestions for abandoning bad habits and implementing good ones abound. Here are some that work for many people.
- Be very clear about the habit you want to change, as well as the benefits. Change is always difficult, and without a compelling reason, it’s much easier to maintain the status quo. The brain is wired for things that are comfortable, familiar, and pleasurable. Realize that changing a habit will cause discomfort and your brain will resist.
2. Make sure you really want to stop a bad habit. Complete the following sentences: The habit I will stop is __________ . The reason is because ____________. The consequences of not stopping are ______________. To help you stay on track, put these sentences on paper and refer to it often during the day.
3. Identify something that will replace the undesired behavior. For example, if you want to stop criticizing your partner or a co-worker, start noticing things that they do well. If you’re going to stop smoking, what will you do with your hands?
4. Before your start date, make a list of triggers that could sabotage your progress and figure out what you’ll do about them. If your doctor has told you to stick to a specific diet plan to lower your cholesterol and you’re headed to a holiday potluck, how will you manage the temptations? Perhaps there are people, places, or activities that you need to avoid—at least for a while.
5. Recruit an accountability partner or join a support group. The article “Accountability: The Key to Reaching Your Goals” states, “When you hold yourself accountable to your goals, you are communicating to the universe (and to yourself) that the goal is a priority—it’s not just something that may or may not get done. If you don’t share your goals in some way, you aren’t truly committing to them. It’s too easy to give up because it’s like they never really existed.”
6. One of the more surprising suggestions is to try breaking all your bad habits at once—especially if you can structure your life so that it is tightly controlled. For example, undergraduate students found it was “a lot easier to take up exercise and meditation and a healthier diet all at once…”
Change can be difficult, but it is possible.