3 Effective Steps To Break Bad Habits
From highly effective to atomic, habits are having a moment. I recently came across this bit of wisdom from Seth Godin by way of Fred Wilson’s blog:
Streaks are their own reward.
Streaks create internal pressure that keeps streaks going.
Streaks require commitment at first, but then the commitment turns into a practice, and the practice into a habit.
Habits are much easier to maintain than commitments.-Seth Godin
And because I’m a habitual realist, I couldn’t help but wonder what about bad habits? Those are REALLY easy to maintain. You know – the streaks that are their own reward but your own detriment, that we do because we can’t help it, or worse, that we do without thinking we do them.
These go by many names: addiction, unconscious bias, compulsive, etc. But for the sake of simplicity, aren’t they just bad habits? Things that we picked up along the way of life…most likely from people who we love and admire the most.
And I think that’s why it’s so hard to “see” bad habits. So often our environments reflect and affirm the action, sometimes as a superficial filter for group acceptance. How many times have you done something because everybody else is doing it? Yup, me too.
The challenge of course is to realize that a habit is, in fact, bad. And the extra twist is what’s bad for you, might not be so bad for other people. So make a hit list of what you think might be some of your own bad habits. Then ponder these questions:
- Do you feel strong or weak afterward…what about after 24 hours?
- How does this action affect other people in your life?
- When you witness the opposite (of this habit), do you feel resentful?
If this habit leaves you weak and resentful of others, it may not be a bad habit per se – but there’s a high probability that it is bad for you.
Now let’s explore what you can do about it:
1. Know The Triggers
For every bad habit action, there’s the thought beforehand, however miniscule. When habits become deeply ingrained (good or bad), scientists say that the decision-making part of the brain goes on auto-pilot. Which is why they are so easy to maintain.
I’ve noticed my own bad habits pop up as an unhealthy reaction to stress. Hence, our mission to “edit stress”. They key here is to be as specific as possible – perhaps it’s not just every time you break up with somebody, but the first time you were ever dumped or felt abandoned.
Why we humans take anything so hard is because hard things happen to us. And too often we have no idea what to do with it or how to let it go. So we bury it. Only it doesn’t really go away, it starts growing and seeding the very ground we walk on.
This is where meditation can be helpful. The act of sitting in silence can give you the mental space to gain clarity on what needs to go. There are a ton of apps these days to help you, although I’m a big fan of a basic timer and sitting comfortably. Start with 3 minutes and gradually add a minute per day/week/month as you feel ready.
2. Embrace Alternatives
Once your brain is on auto-pilot, remember that your brain is awesome and can take back the wheel at any time.
In other words, the best way to kick a habit is to replace it with another one. Despite our tendency to fall into ruts, our brains actually like new stuff over old stuff. This means new actions disrupt old actions. Slowly and gradually new (hopefully good) habits overcome bad ones.
Some practical examples:
- Tired of sleeping so late? Create an early sleep ritual: Put the devices away, make a cup of tea, and dab your pulse points with lavender oil.
- Wanna stop biting your nails? Try to recognize the trigger and slide under your hands under your thighs to give yourself a minute to take 3 deep breaths.
- Chronically late to meetings? Schedule 30 minutes before and after every meeting as much as you are able. Reward yourself with a new watch. Imagine Andy Grove disciplining you…
“All I have in this world is time, and you are wasting my time.”-Andy Grove, Intel CEO, said to an employee who was late to a meeting
3. Tell A Friend
Accountability is a strong motivator. By sharing your desire to break a habit with a friend (or mentor!), that person can ask you about your progress. You could even give them permission to do exactly that.
Regular check-ins with someone in your life keeps you on your toes. For this reason, our platform allows you to book multiple sessions with mentors in advance. For trickier situations, professional or medical support is also a great option to help you monitor progress.
Consider this: it’s an act of love to improve yourself, it’s an act of love to want to improve yourself, and it’s an act of love to try to want to improve yourself. I would call that a good habit.
“Grace will take you places hustling can’t.”-Elizabeth Gilbert