Tips for Breaking Unwanted Habits

We all have habits…some good and some, well, not so good.  And those habits are often so deeply engrained into our everyday lives, into the very fiber of our being, that they can be hard to change.  Some can even feel impossible to change.  Others may be newly developed habits as a result of having to stay at home for these past few months during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Biting our finger nails.  Tapping a pen on the table.  Shaking your leg while seated at a table.  Smoking. Gambling.  Overeating.  Shopping.  Cutting people off when they are a speaking.  Saying “um” a lot when you speak.  Cracking your gum while you are chewing it.  We could list things for days, but you get the idea.  (I am sure you see some of these habits in yourself, a family member, a friend, and/or a few of your colleagues.)  And like it or not, we all have succumb to one bad habit or another at least at some point in our lifetime.  Habits, particularly bad ones, appear to almost be tied to human nature.

But the good news is that habits, even the deeply engrained and less desirable ones, can be changed.  Is it always quick and easy?  No, usually not.  Remember, it took you 20, 30, 40 or more years to develop the habit so you likely won’t be able to change it overnight.  But it can be done. 

Here are a few tried and true tips for breaking your unwanted habits:

1. Take one habit at a time – Taking small, manageable steps toward a goal of any kind is the best way to ensure success, and breaking unwanted habits is no different.  Don’t try to change too many things at one time.  Pick one thing and work on just that item until you have success, then start on something new.  This helps ensure success and prevents you from losing your momentum and initiative if you have a day when the old habit wins out.  Small steps forward will get your there and keep you there for the long haul.

2. Find an accountability buddy – It may sound a little cliché but accountability partners increase the likelihood of success one hundred-fold, if not more.  Whether that person acts as a reminder or simply provides you support as you struggle to overcome the bad habit, having another person with you on the habit breaking journey is invaluable.

3. Remember it takes time and practice – The longer it’s been a habit the longer it will take to change that habit.  Remember to look at the long haul to see your progress not just the day to day.  You may wish to find a tool or method for tracking your progress so you can visually see your success.  For example, if you are trying to cut back on the amount of coffee or soda you drink in a day, you can create a chart to track the number of those beverages you have each day so that at a glance you can see over time how the numbers are going down.  You could use stickers or lists as well.  Any system that resonates with you, motivates you, and helps you see your progress over time is  good system to use.

4. Forgive yourself when you falter cause you will falter, especially it is a lifelong habit – I cannot say enough about this one.  In fact it may be the most important tip here.  When you are endeavoring to change a habit, especially one you have had for your entire lifetime to date, it is extremely likely that you will falter, miss a day, mess up, slide backwards.  It happens to pretty much all of us.  We are human and as I stated before, our habits are a part of who we are.  We will slip up on this journey to change our habits so know that in advance and don’t beat yourself up about it.  If/when you falter love yourself and know you are not alone.  And remember, tomorrow is another day, a new beginning.

5. Schedule it or create reminders – Depending on the habit you are trying to break you may need to schedule time to do what it is you would rather be doing.  That’s right, literally put it on your calendar or To Do list.  If it is important to you, if it is truly something you want to do, then make time in your schedule for it.  For example, if you have a habit of skipping your morning meditation then put it on your calendar and create a reminder.  That coupled with an accountability partner might be all you need to sit for your meditation.  And if putting it on the calendar or To Do list doesn’t work for you, then maybe you hang some post-it notes around your home or office to remind.  Whatever works.  Find a way to remind yourself every day, multiple times a day of what you do and don’t want to be doing with your time and your life.

Don’t be discouraged.  You can beat those unwanted habits.  It may take a little time and perseverance but you can create all new habits, ones that support and sustain you in a healthy and productive way. So which one of your habits will you start with today?

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