If you’ve tried to break a bad habit or start up a good one, you already know it’s not always that easy. Yes, you’ve probably already heard about how it takes just 21 days to form a new habit, but as we’ve already written about – that’s just not true. A recent study showed on average it’s more like 66 days and could vary wildly between individuals (between as much as 18 – 250 days).
So starting new habits isn’t quite as simple as many personal development gurus had led us to believe. Don’t know about you, but I for one am happy to hear this, because if you’ve ever tried starting a new habit and failed miserably, you may just need to stick to it for longer. Whew, that let’s me off the hook on all those times I tried to swap coffee for water!
Now that we know what we’re dealing with, and you feel better about those good habits you didn’t stick to, the question becomes: “How do we make it easier to break the bad habits and start the good ones?” Glad you asked, because that’s exactly what this article is about! Let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to make it easier on yourself.
How To Break Bad Habits And Start Good Habits
Find a healthy substitute first.
It can often be much easier to break bad habits if you have another habit to fill its’ place. If you’re trying to give up sugar, you could replace it with eating a piece of fruit instead. Or if that doesn’t work you could try drinking a glass of water, or counting to 10, or doing 10 jumping jacks… Find what works for you, if eating fruit doesn’t work, maybe the 10 jumping jacks will, and as long as the new habit is healthier than the old one, you’ll be taking small steps to a healthier you.
Catch yourself in the act.
Habits are automatic programs designed to make life easier. Imagine if you had to think about how to brush your teeth each time you did it – that’d make getting ready take a whole lot longer. So one way to begin to unwravel bad habits, is to catch yourself when you’re doing them. So if you bite your nails, first notice that you’re doing it and say: “I’m choosing to bite my nails.” since it is a choice, even if it’s an automatic one. Once you get better at noticing yourself at doing the habit, catch yourself before you do it, and say: “I’m about to bite my nails, is this what I really want?”.
Aim for consistency not perfection.
Realize up-front that you’ll have moments of weakness where you go back to the bad habit. This is especially true in the beginning, which could seem like you’re missing the mark more than you’re hitting it, but you can relax – it’s just a sign that you’re a human being like the rest of us. If you stick with it over time you’ll find that you get fewer and fewer misses and more and more hits until the old habit is gone completely.
Do some introspection.
Many times bad habits fulfill some emotional need (e.g. the emotional eater), so in this sense they’re not actually “bad” but actually quite useful. However, there are often healthier ways to fulfill those same emotional needs, you just need to find them – that often requires being completely honest with yourself as to why you’re doing the habit in the first place. For example, if you eat to feel comfort and security, then you could find healthier alternatives which could fulfill those same emotional needs – e.g having a deep and meaningful conversation with someone. Since we’re all individuals you’ll need to find what works for you, but don’t be afraid to experiment with different healthier options.
Skip the shoulds.
People often have ideas of things they should be doing. The only problem is, they don’t want to do them. Changing habits is hard enough, if you try to replace them with things you feel you should do, rather than would actually enjoy doing, your just not going to stick to the new habit. So for example if you want to get fitter, but don’t want to go to gym, then don’t. Try some other activity that will give you similar benefits and you actually enjoy. Find something which is a good fit for you, not something you think you should be doing – there are enough healthy options for everyone.
Make bad habits hard and good habits easy.
If you find you’re always eating cookies at home, then stop buying the cookies and replace them with bowls of fruit which are easy to get to. If you smoke too much at work, only take 1 cigarette to work, if you want more, you’ll have to go all the way to the shop to buy them, but make sure you have plenty of gum. The idea is to add more complexity to the bad habits so that it makes them harder to do and frankly not worth the effort. By the same token, you want to make the new healthy habits as easy as possible so you do them more. Simple!
Stick to one habit at a time.
Changing a single habit or starting a new one is difficult enough, so trying to do more than one at a time is setting yourself up for failure. It’s probably possible, but the odds aren’t in your favour. So make it easy on yourself and focus on one at a time, then move on to the next one.
Try it on for 30 days.
30 day challenges are awesome. Just stick to one new habit and try it on for 30 days, when the 30 days are done then decide whether you’d like to keep doing it or not – takes the pressure right off. 30 days is a good milestone, but remember you may need to keep at it for a bit longer before it becomes a habit. The cool thing about habits though, is that once you’ve passed the point where it is a habit, it actually becomes easier to do it than not.
Write it down.
Then put it everywhere you’ll see it – on the mirror, fridge, everywhere you can. Some tips: make sure you state it in the positive and keep your focus on the end result. So instead of writing: “No more cookies!” you could write “Eat fruit to satisfy my sweet-tooth”.
Use technology to help you keep track of progress.
Good technology just makes your life easier, that includes starting up new habits. I’ve talked about apps we’re using to help us stick to new habits, so check those out if you’d like to try some.
Make it public, maybe.
Some people find this works well for them. For others, not so much. If you’re the kind of person who does better when you know other people are watching, then try this out to boost your commitment.
Keep it simple sweetheart. The more complicated your new habit is, the harder it’s going to be to stick to it. New habits can almost always be simplified. Steve Pavlina also has a great advice for maintaining “not-quite-daily” habits (which in my experience can often be tricky to maintain).
Sharpen the axe.
No, this isn’t some new radical habit breaking technique. It simply means plan ahead. For example if you’ve decided you want to cut down on sugar, before you start in ernest, go through the house and round up all the guilty culprits (cookies, ice cream etc.) and give them away or get rid of them. Then make a list of the healthy fruits you’re going to replace them with and go out and buy those. You get the idea, a bit of planning goes a long way, and we love it when a plan comes together.
Even though it can be hard to replace bad habits with good ones, the rewards are worth it. As they say: the juice is worth the squeeze. Even if you don’t get it right the first time around, the next time you try, you’ll be that much closer. So add some of these tips into the mix and start living a healthier, happier life.
Your turn: What habits are you trying to change? Have you tried any of these tips before? Did they help you? Let us know!