The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. ~Samuel Johnson
Bad habits can be difficult to break, as I’m sure you can relate to. Bad habits are a repetitive form of behavior that becomes so enmeshed in your psyche, they quickly become instinctual and involuntary.
Each year people spend thousands of hours and dollars attempting to break free of a pattern of bad behavior, but the majority fails.
Because there is no magical solution. Breaking a bad habit typically requires hard work and there are no shortcuts.
To effectively change a bad habit, you need to firstly recognize that the habit exists, and then make a conscious decision to overcome it.
Pain vs Gain
The most critical exercise in beginning the process of breaking a bad habit is looking at what is the payoff and what is the cost?
Let’s look at alcohol abuse: ask yourself “what do I gain by having 5 or 6 drinks every night when I get home from work?” Of course, the answer is easy.
For you it might be, “A drink or two relaxes me”, “I have time to think about the day’s events”, or “I can forget about the stresses of the day”.
Then you must honestly answer the question: “But what is it costing me?”
The answer may be less quality time with your spouse and family, a monumental hangover in the morning, alcohol may make you cranky and moody, or in a worse case scenario, you may become abusive and hostile. What is it doing to our organs and you physically that you won’t realize until years later?
Once you’ve assessed the positive and negative impact the bad habit plays in your life, it’s time to begin an action plan to break the habit.
- Affirm Your Conviction
If you don’t consider the price you pay for repeating the bad habit worthwhile, then it’s likely you won’t break the habit.
Be honest with yourself and take into account not only how the habit impacts on your life, but also how it impacts those around you.
Make a decisive choice to become a better human being by breaking the repetitive bad behavior.
- Focus on the Benefits
Make a list of all the positive changes that will occur once you have broken the bad habit. Include the improved health factors, the opportunity to improve your personal relationships, or the emotional benefits.
Refer to this list every time you believe your resolve is under threat.
- Take Action
The time to start your new behavioral pattern is NOW. The right opportunity is NOT going to present itself in a few days or at the start of a new week.
Once you have resolved to change the bad habit, put your action plan into top gear straight away.
- No Excuses!
Provide yourself with a safe haven in which to activate your plan for change. As an example, if you decide to give up smoking, get rid of any leftover cigarette packets, remove ashtrays, lighters, matches or anything else that reminds you of smoking.
Bad habits are often triggered by stressful situations, so work on a plan of attack to counter your lowered resistance during times of stress.
- Plot your Progress
Take note of your daily/weekly/monthly progress in your calendar or on a tracking report that is in full view. Nothing is an inspirational as seeing how far you’ve come and what it would cost if you had to begin the process all over again.
- Maintain Motivation
After the initial novelty of making a life altering change begins, boredom can set in. Continually challenge yourself to stay on target, and focus on the good things you will achieve once you’ve broken the back of your bad habit.
If necessary, practice a daily affirmation like “Every day in every way I am becoming a better person.”
- Set Up a Support Structure
Keeping your action plan to yourself is a great excuse if you fail. You figure: “Nobody knows about what I’m aiming to achieve; therefore, nobody will know when I fail.”
Tell your friends, colleagues and family about what you are proposing to do and enlist their support and encouragement.
They can often foresee your trigger points or notice your behavior slipping into dangerous territory. Their feedback may not always be welcome, but their support will keep you accountable.
- Falling Off The Wagon
Failure only turns into reality when you stop trying. Don’t allow one small slip up to be reason enough for failure. Accept that your action plan had a slight “bump” and then get straight back on the wagon and continue the journey. I like to tell the people I coach – you are allowed a 5-minute pity party and then put your big girl/boy pants on and move on. What happened in the past is done, so make your choices with intention going forward.
- Acknowledge and Reward Yourself
Daily or weekly achievements are an acknowledgment of your success. Take the time to stop, think and give yourself a pat on the back in acknowledgment of how far you’ve come.
Reward yourself. Let’s say you’ve gone an entire month without eating one junk food meal; so it’s time to congratulate yourself by taking in a movie, playing a round of golf, getting a massage, or going to the park to play with the kids. Better still, go to the park and do a 20-minute brisk walk!
- Maintain Your Focus
Bad habits can take years to develop into subconscious behaviors. So, it’s unrealistic to expect that after one or two months of altering your behavioral pattern, those bad habits will be eliminated altogether.
Be aware that it’s easy to re-establish old, practiced forms of behavior.
When you feel your resolve slipping, recount the journey you’ve been on to get to where you are now and focus on all the positive changes you’ve made.
Remember: Bad habits may be hard to break, but new habits can transform your business and your life.
What ‘bad’ habits do you have that you want to change or eliminate? Begin to transform your life today so you can be even more successful and enjoy a more balanced life.
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