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Breaking bad habits and forming healthy ones

Another day, another memes (I invited anyone to tag me with a meme in return for a link and a free copy of my forthcoming ebook). Don’t worry, I am not going to tell my life story like yesterday, this one will be about you rather than me 🙂

Success is partly about good habits. Good habits help you get stuff done and fixing the bad habits removes self-constraining behaviour. All good, but how?

David asks “How do you make changes?

if you wanted to improve your life by changing a habit – how would you set about it?

I’ll tell you how I have made changes. I’ve found the only way to get rid of bad habits is to form new good ones.

We pretty much always know what we ought to be doing instead of a bad habit. In most cases we cling on to the bad habit because of comfort, it is easier, more enjoyable. In addition, the downside feels distant. The consequences are normally not instant.

For example eating that extra donut. It feels good. Now. Being fat is forgotten for the moment. That heart attack might get you eventually but not likely right now.

Negotiating with yourself ain’t gonna work. If the alternative felt better we wouldn’t need to try to remove the habit. You have to engage your pleasure center not just your logic 🙂

Sometimes you can force yourself to form a new good habit. If your problem is being late to work then set your alarm for an earlier time and make sure you set the new pattern for 21 days straight (including weekends). Keep it up and you ought to have a new wake-up time. Of course slip and you go right back to where you started.

A lot of us can’t just decide on a new habit and ta-daa, there it is. The solution is “self binding”. I wrote an article a while ago about Self binding and willpower, see what you think.

Self-binding, in this context, means finding ways to commit yourself to a course of action where the consequences of not are out of your control. It could be as simple as a bet with a friend or at the extreme informing the police to arrest the driver of your car if found out after 10pm.

So what you do is give yourself a reward for good behaviour and/or an unpleasant consequence for bad behaviour. Continue with the good habit long enough and you should have imprinted a new pattern.

Have you ever managed to lose a bad habit? Let us know in the comments …

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Comments

  1. I got rid of eating sweets. If there’s something sweet in my mouth, I eventually notice the strange taste of pure sugar and spit it out.
    Also I’m a vegetarian now, though not very experienced yet. Eating is a lot more fun sometimes. If only the rest of my family would adopt — things could be so much easier.
    I got rid of sleeping in as well. A bit. I managed to get up at 9:00am at least.

  2. I got rid of eating sweets. If there’s something sweet in my mouth, I eventually notice the strange taste of pure sugar and spit it out.
    Also I’m a vegetarian now, though not very experienced yet. Eating is a lot more fun sometimes. If only the rest of my family would adopt — things could be so much easier.
    I got rid of sleeping in as well. A bit. I managed to get up at 9:00am at least.

  3. I tried to give up meat but the smell of bacon lured me back. I’m really going to have to give it a proper try 🙂

  4. I tried to give up meat but the smell of bacon lured me back. I’m really going to have to give it a proper try 🙂

  5. I like what Covey said in the 8th Habit – learn to focus on the benefit of a different habit. Such as how much better you will feel if you lose weight instead of not looking fat or how great those donuts taste. How much more disposable income you will have if you eat at home and eat fast food less often rather than how easy it is to just grab a burger.

    I agree, negotiation with yourself is not usually a good idea. Deciding before hand on the benefit of a good goal is much easier. Keeping yourself busy with the right activities also helps. Many people have addiction weaknesses. One way to beat them is to be too busy to give in. Easier said than done.

    The #1 best way to change a habit: Tell a friend who will help you succeed. Be honest with them and make sure they are honest with you. Besides a celebration is always more fun when you are not alone.

    Thanks Chris.

  6. I like what Covey said in the 8th Habit – learn to focus on the benefit of a different habit. Such as how much better you will feel if you lose weight instead of not looking fat or how great those donuts taste. How much more disposable income you will have if you eat at home and eat fast food less often rather than how easy it is to just grab a burger.

    I agree, negotiation with yourself is not usually a good idea. Deciding before hand on the benefit of a good goal is much easier. Keeping yourself busy with the right activities also helps. Many people have addiction weaknesses. One way to beat them is to be too busy to give in. Easier said than done.

    The #1 best way to change a habit: Tell a friend who will help you succeed. Be honest with them and make sure they are honest with you. Besides a celebration is always more fun when you are not alone.

    Thanks Chris.

  7. Yeah I agree Roger, having friends and family support you is the best. Back when I did that new years resolution post my idea was to do a website where people could record their resolutions and what they would do if they slipped, such as a payment to charity or somesuch.

  8. Yeah I agree Roger, having friends and family support you is the best. Back when I did that new years resolution post my idea was to do a website where people could record their resolutions and what they would do if they slipped, such as a payment to charity or somesuch.

  9. Where do you even start with bad habits? I cant count how many are a part of my life, I guess the key is finding the balance between good and bad. The more good things you offer life the more good things life will offer you.

    I think I go back and forth fighting my demons and giving in to them. In our adolescence we can blame mom and pop but there comes a time when we become responsible for our behaviors. The courts say it is at eighteen but I think my reality came around twenty-two.

    Life is just such a confusing place when you think about good and bad and what to make of our teachers? The government, power & energy companies, pharmaceutical companies, arms dealers and I am sure the list goes on. I mean who is right the democrat or the republican? Why did we not start using solar or green energy back in the 70s when we knew the non-renewable energy sources where destroying the earth? Is there a cure for Cancer and AIDS or do they just want to sell drugs? Do we go to war for power and money or to solve a problem?

    I guess on a smaller note if I continue to do the next right thing and add more good habits to my life my small circle of freinds will share in my ever growing karma.

    Sorry for the rant this topic sometimes catches me at the wrong time.

    Thank you for another great post.

  10. Where do you even start with bad habits? I cant count how many are a part of my life, I guess the key is finding the balance between good and bad. The more good things you offer life the more good things life will offer you.

    I think I go back and forth fighting my demons and giving in to them. In our adolescence we can blame mom and pop but there comes a time when we become responsible for our behaviors. The courts say it is at eighteen but I think my reality came around twenty-two.

    Life is just such a confusing place when you think about good and bad and what to make of our teachers? The government, power & energy companies, pharmaceutical companies, arms dealers and I am sure the list goes on. I mean who is right the democrat or the republican? Why did we not start using solar or green energy back in the 70s when we knew the non-renewable energy sources where destroying the earth? Is there a cure for Cancer and AIDS or do they just want to sell drugs? Do we go to war for power and money or to solve a problem?

    I guess on a smaller note if I continue to do the next right thing and add more good habits to my life my small circle of freinds will share in my ever growing karma.

    Sorry for the rant this topic sometimes catches me at the wrong time.

    Thank you for another great post.

  11. Your website idea isn’t so bad after all, I think. If you know traineo.com, you probably know that the “pressure” by friends and other community members helps a lot of them to lose weight.
    My resolution was giving up meat, and since I told my girlfriend and some of my relatives what I was up to I had enough pressure to succeed.

  12. Your website idea isn’t so bad after all, I think. If you know traineo.com, you probably know that the “pressure” by friends and other community members helps a lot of them to lose weight.
    My resolution was giving up meat, and since I told my girlfriend and some of my relatives what I was up to I had enough pressure to succeed.

  13. At age 23, I managed to quit chewing my nails…

  14. At age 23, I managed to quit chewing my nails…

  15. As a psychiatrist, one of the best things I learned was from a book, Motivational Interviewing, which is about helping people change addictive behavior. What it says: You have to find a way to get the good things that you get from something that’s bad for you, but in a different way.

    So, those 3 donuts calling you? How about answering with a cup of hot chocolate, if you want something sweet. Or going for a walk if you need something to perk you up. Or taking a break if you’re eating out of boredom.

    Now if I could only use this advice for my freecell addiction!

  16. As a psychiatrist, one of the best things I learned was from a book, Motivational Interviewing, which is about helping people change addictive behavior. What it says: You have to find a way to get the good things that you get from something that’s bad for you, but in a different way.

    So, those 3 donuts calling you? How about answering with a cup of hot chocolate, if you want something sweet. Or going for a walk if you need something to perk you up. Or taking a break if you’re eating out of boredom.

    Now if I could only use this advice for my freecell addiction!

  17. Thanks for responding to my original meme. I think the issue that Christian raises above is worth expanding on. Whilst I don’t like the idea of “pressure” from friends and family, I think “support” from others is key to making sustainable changes. But you need to work out what type of support will suit you – I would suggest encouragement rather than bullying, but different things work for different people.

  18. Thanks for responding to my original meme. I think the issue that Christian raises above is worth expanding on. Whilst I don’t like the idea of “pressure” from friends and family, I think “support” from others is key to making sustainable changes. But you need to work out what type of support will suit you – I would suggest encouragement rather than bullying, but different things work for different people.

  19. Jen / domestika says:

    Training an alternative behaviour (replacing a bad habit with a good one) is what seems to work best in obedience-training dogs — stands to reason it would work for humans too! If only I had any bad habits to cure…
    {coff coff} 😉

  20. Training an alternative behaviour (replacing a bad habit with a good one) is what seems to work best in obedience-training dogs — stands to reason it would work for humans too! If only I had any bad habits to cure…
    {coff coff} 😉

  21. I have a blogging-related habit which I cured. I used to stay up very very late, too tired to post but awake enough to read and read like mad (online). At first this was beneficial because I needed to get that reading under my belt as a ‘learner blogger’ (although I still learn many new things about blogging each day).

    Eventually it got to the point where that time would be better spent writing an extra post when I was wide awake, which is exactly what happened. I eased myself into getting to sleep earlier and walking up earlier, allowing me to squeeze out an extra blog post in the mornings.

    Although reading is just as important as writing in learning about blogging, the writing is the satisfying part and can act as a reward.

  22. I have a blogging-related habit which I cured. I used to stay up very very late, too tired to post but awake enough to read and read like mad (online). At first this was beneficial because I needed to get that reading under my belt as a ‘learner blogger’ (although I still learn many new things about blogging each day).

    Eventually it got to the point where that time would be better spent writing an extra post when I was wide awake, which is exactly what happened. I eased myself into getting to sleep earlier and walking up earlier, allowing me to squeeze out an extra blog post in the mornings.

    Although reading is just as important as writing in learning about blogging, the writing is the satisfying part and can act as a reward.