Sometimes you need to make some new habits to break those frustrating old ones.
When bad habits wedge their way into your daily routine, it can feel like you need a magic spell to quit. Unfortunately for you, you're a muggle, so the first step to the new you is just going to have to be accepting that you'll need to conquer it with worldly powers. But there is hope! Looking at some of the good habits that have helped break bad habits may just help us learn something by example. Time to start on the road to becoming a successful quitter of bad habits.
Don't hang out with Ryan Gosling if you don't want to be smoking!
1. Understand that a habit isn't simply "who you are."
This is a terrible trap and you need to rise above it.
After being asked about the specific bad habit of tardiness, New York City life coach Julie Holmes explained, “when people get into the habit of constantly being late for things they develop a pattern of doing so, and begin to believe that it's just who they are. It becomes a part of their perceived persona and can lead to a feeling of entitlement to continue to do so.”
Being perpetually late is not just who you are. Too often we get pulled into a trap of either being defined or defining ourselves as someone we don't necessarily have to -- or want to -- be. Don't let anyone, including yourself, keep you down like this. When trying to tackle bad habits, maintaining a positive attitude about yourself is essential. Bad habits do not a bad person make.
2. Don't quit on quitting.
Both of the quotes, “If you are going through hell, keep going," and "Never, never, never give up," were given to us by Winston Churchill, who, despite your views on his politics, is widely accepted as a champion of perseverance.
A strong reserve is obviously needed in order to quit bad habits that have been deeply rooted into our routines. Sometimes all you can do is bury your head and try to keep going, understanding that it may take a few tries. As one New York Times article about quitting smoking pointed out, "Most smokers need several attempts before they can become permanent ex-smokers."
If quitting something forever sounds too impossible, think about it in smaller terms. "Forget all that haring around, be the tortoise," suggests psychologist Jeremy Dean, author of "Making Habits, Breaking Habits." Just try to successfully and go day by day until the habit is broken.
3. Help yourself move on by doing something else.
A great way to get rid of a pesky bad habit is to try and replace it in your daily routine. Total reconstruction of your regular habits can be tricky, but slight tweaks can work out much better. If the habit you're trying to drop is eating fast food to treat yourself directly after work, try treating yourself by getting something healthier, even if just marginally, instead of nothing all together.
Even if your replacement isn't necessarily a great habit in itself, the change will help disrupt your bad habit's power over you, which is what's important first and foremost. Be honest with yourself, it will be hard to defeat your coffee habit by attempting to cut caffeine out of your day entirely. Tea, anybody?
4. Write your problems down.
You need to flesh out the problem and work out the details. "Put down the antecedents, the emotions surrounding the knuckle cracking and what goes through your head when you crack your knuckles. This will make your bad habit more conscious," says Janet L. Wolfe, PhD, who is a clinical psychologist in New York City.
You don't need to take this advice to the extreme, like Hannah Horvath from HBO's "Girls," who took the personal problem writing so far that it led to a mental breakdown and a Q-Tip wedged in her ear. But every so often, writing down how you're feeling when you feel your bad habit rearing its head can be helpful.
5. Compartmentalize and create boundaries to guide yourself away from the habit.
This can mean something as simple as declaring that the bed will only be used for sleep (and sex?) to break the habit of late night smartphone use. It could also mean something a bit more extreme, like giving up the phone altogether after a certain hour. Although the degree of this is up to you and what you find reasonable, making some personal ground rules and boundaries to live by is a key step in breaking bad habits.
6. Clear your mind and take things slower.
We are creatures of habit and sometimes you just need to take a second and really think about what you're doing. Bad habits are "mindless" actions at their root, as they've worked themselves into your psyche and can be performed without much thought. Fighting something like this requires stepping out of your head a bit and thinking how the cogs work.
If you have a bad habit of buying things, step away from the one-click ordering and really think if you can actually afford -- or actually need -- whatever it is. Even if it's on sale, try to make sure you're thinking clearly and aren't jumping too quickly into a bad shopping habit that you've acknowledged and are trying to break.
7. Remind yourself of the resolution and why you wanted to change.
You need to become strong-willed when kicking bad habits, and one of the best ways to do this is simply remembering your goals and why they're important to you.
Life throws you surprises, like invitations to the bar or a spontaneous cake in the office. Despite thinking that you've beaten a bad habit, often times the desire is just lying dormant, ready to resurface when these temptations arise. So you need to consistently remind yourself of why you personally think beating this bad habit is worthwhile. Keep telling yourself you can better maintain your weight or stop depending on cigarettes. Dream you're closer than ever to becoming the healthier or wiser person you want to be and remind yourself that returning to the habit is just a painful punch to the future you.
8. Avoid temptations in the first place.
If you're a chocoholic, don't work in a candy store, duh. Don't even walk by one every day! If your daily routine leads you to be tempted constantly by something you want to stop doing, you need to change things up. Addictive bad habits may be harder to avoid, as really any moment can feel like it calls for a drink or smoking break, but perhaps it's time to rethink all of those party and bar invites.
Bad habits often have a social component, in which you may not truly have a desire for the reward of alcohol, smoking or cookies, but instead just want to hang out with friends. If this is the case, find a way to be social without encouraging the habits you're trying to cut out.
9. Rely on your friends for help.
In the opening of the television show "Friends," a band called The Rembrandts forever taught us the value of buddies when they sang a catchy tune that included the words "I'll be there for you," and a bunch of other lyrics we can't remember. Those are the important ones.
You need friends to help get you through the struggles of breaking bad habits. You need a support team. Even if just having a friend to call when you're thinking about your bad habit can be a big help.
And finally, for an illustrated demonstration of how habits work, here's a wonderful video from psychologist Owen Fitzpatrick.
All images from Getty.