Table of contents
You must start by becoming more aware of the reasons behind your habits. You need to clearly identify what emotional needs they’re meeting in your life.
Be mindful of your habits - The power of awareness
I believe self-awareness is one of the most powerful ways to get rid of bad habits forever and implement new, positive ones. The fact that you read this article proves that, to a certain extent, you’re already aware of some of your habits and how they might be dragging you down.
Take some time to look at the bad habits you’d like to change. Select just one for now. Are you aware of the emotions associated with that habit? Do you see why you have this habit and why it’s so hard to get rid of? Does this habit help you cope with your fears? Is it a means of escaping from something? If so, from what?
Believe that you can
It may sound like common sense, but you have to believe that you can actually get rid of this habit. So, let me ask you: do you believe you can do it? Can you honestly answer yes to that question?
Most of what happens to us in life is the result of our beliefs. Beliefs are incredible, they can be your best friend or your worst enemy. The answer to the previous question is: Yes. Yes, you can! You are more than capable of eliminating your bad habit.
However, bad your habit may be, there are people out there just like you who’ve gotten rid of the same habit. Their ability to do this was rooted in two things: believing that they could get rid of their unwanted habit, and fully committing to doing so.
Are you completely committed to changing your habit? Really? When it comes to changing a bad habit, you have to commit to it with every fiber of your being.
Does this sound obvious, too? Getting rid of a bad habit is far from easy. Chances are, you’ve tried unsuccessfully in the past, and you may fail again in the future.
The question is: can you commit to getting rid of that bad habit, despite the obstacles you may face? Can you stick to it no matter how long it takes? Can you get back up when you fail? When the going gets tough, will you stay committed to eliminating the pesky habit that’s preventing you from being the person you want to be?
Take full responsability
You can’t be fully committed to getting rid of your bad habit unless you take responsibility for the situation you’re in now. When you don’t take complete responsibility for your life, you give your power away to circumstances, situations, and people.
By refusing to acknowledge that you have the power to change your current situation, you give up all hope of eliminating your bad habit.
You may be drinking because you have a problem at home or at work. You may gamble excessively or play video games all day because you want to escape your day-to-day reality.
Regardless of the pressures fueling these bad habits, they still come from choices you have made. As such, the commitment and decision to stop must also to come from you.
Are you currently taking responsibility for your bad habit, or are you blaming other people and things for it? If you think you’re drinking because your job is stressful or things aren’t going well in your relationship, you are wrong.
You are the one who chooses to use alcohol to escape. It all comes down to how you choose to deal with the situation. Nobody is forcing you to do anything. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s the truth. If you play the victim, you’ll be stuck forever. Take responsibility for your life because, situations, circumstances, and people rarely change. If you want change, it has to come from within.
How to get rid of most bad habits?
Let’s look at some examples of what I call “mild addictions”. This term covers the kind of bad habits addressed in this article.
Let’s say you’re spending 3 hours a day playing videos games and you’d like to get rid of that habit. Figure out what emotional needs the games are filling? Are you using them as a way to escape your responsibilities? Do they help you deal with stress at work or in your personal life?
You could be using your bad habit as a way to procrastinate, or it could be a mild addiction related to the instant gratification that you receive from it.
Television, social media, video games, and food are prime examples of these types of habits. In fact, they are largely designed to hook you in by exploiting a “biological loophole” that advertising takes full advantage of. You’ve probably noticed how each episode of your favorite shows end in a way that makes you obsessed with seeing the next one. And if you’re like most people, you’ve probably found yourself binging on television shows.
When you step back and look at the big picture, however, you’ll see that video games, television shows, and social media platforms that look so appealing on first glance don’t really contribute to your happiness and well-being.
We’re wired to respond to instant gratification in whatever form it comes. Even so, with enough commitment, awareness, and preparation, we can eradicate our bad habits. I’ll explain this more in upcoming sections.
Observe your emotions without being judgmental
What emotions do you feel before, during, and after you engage in your bad habit?
Do you feel excitement right before it starts? What about during it? Is the excitement still there after it’s over, or do you experience feelings of guilt or dissatisfaction? It’s important that you take the time to observe your emotions during each phase without judging them.
Now, let’s take an in-depth, step-by- step look at these 3 phases. For simplicity’s sake, let’s use video games as our example.
How do you feel when you get the urge to play video games? Stay with that feeling, observe it with the kind of curiosity and objectivity you would expect from a scientist. Stop yourself from acting on it just for a while. Don’t try to ignore it or turn it down. Then, try to recall how you felt the last time you finished playing video games (see “After” section below). Did you feel happier, more fulfilled, or more confident?
At this point, you should tell yourself that you’ll play video games in 5 minutes, but just want to do something else that you enjoy first. This could be reading a book, listening to your favorite song, or playing an instrument.
It doesn't matter what it is, as long as you enjoy the activity. The more likely you are to be absorbed in the activity, the better.
How This Helps:
- Becoming more conscious of the feelings you have when you’re about to dive into your bad habit allows you to start gaining control over the situation.
- Delaying the moment you’ll start engaging in your habits helps you condition to stop acting on impulse.
- Starting a different activity for a few minutes shifts your focus away from your habit, especially if the other activity is something you particularly enjoy. You can then delay the moment you start your bad habit even further whenever possible. You may even skip it altogether sometimes! As you repeat this process, you’ll become better and better at resisting the urge to act on your emotions.
Observe the emotions you feel while playing video games with the same curiosity and objectivity that we discussed above. How do you feel? Are you really enjoying the process? Or is it less pleasurable than you thought it would be?
Create multiple interruptions as you’re playing by taking breaks or doing something else for just a few moments. Stop to get a drink, go to the bathroom, or tidy up your area.
These interruptions can come at intervals of your choosing. You could set a timer to stop playing once every twenty minutes, or you might decide to take a break whenever your feelings about playing fluctuate.
Make sure these interruptions are given a genuine effort, though. Pause the game, turn off the television, or whatever action applies, take a moment to become conscious of how you feel, then start your other activity. Try sitting or standing somewhere else, or go to another room if possible.
During this process, it’s important to give yourself total permission to go back playing video games at any time. Don’t blame yourself, don’t try to force yourself to resist the urge to return to them. Go back to playing video games if you feel like it, or keep on with your other activity. Either one is fine.
Why it Works:
- Staying in touch with your emotions heightens your self-awareness, which leaves room for alternatives to your habit, such as taking a break or doing something else. This will make it much easier to cut back on or totally eliminate your habit, depending on which option is healthiest (remember, some things are fine in moderation).
- By turning off the TV, pausing the game, or taking a break, you interrupt the “trance”, at which point you may realize that playing video games wasn’t as fulfilling as you expected. As you start other activities, you may become so absorbed with them that you forget the urge to engage in your bad habit.
- Have you ever forgotten to do something you really wanted to do because you were interrupted or started doing something else? I’ve done this on a number of occasions, and that’s exactly what we’re recreating here. When you’re caught up in a certain activity, it often seems as if you just can’t stop. As soon as you get distracted and start doing something else, however, you break the spell and often wonder why you were so absorbed in the previous activity.
Pay close attention to how you feel after you’re done playing video games. Are you satisfied and happy? Or does it feel as if you wasted your time again just like yesterday and the day before it? Do you experience guilt? Stay with your feelings, whatever they may be. Then, imagine what else you could have done instead of playing video games?
Keep a time log where you write exactly how much time you engage in your bad habit. Do this for at a week, then multiply the results by 52 to figure out how much time it takes out of your year. How many hours do you spend playing video games, watching TV, gambling, etc. What else could you have done with all that time?
If your habit is something you do multiple times a day, like checking emails or going on Facebook, use an app that will record how much time you spend doing that. You can also keep a piece of paper by your computer and use it to record every time you check social media or emails.
These tactics might sound simple, but they’ll force you to become more conscious of your actions and take note of what you’re actually doing. You might be shocked by how many times you check your emails or social media accounts each day!
Why it Works:
- By getting in touch with the shame, guilt, frustration, and negative feelings that come after you’ve engaged in your habit, you’ll begin to associate the activity with pain. You’ll realize that, in retrospect, it never feels as good as you think it will. Remember those painful emotions each time you’re tempted. Are you sure you want to feel that again?
- Keeping a time log forces you to become more conscious of your activities and sheds light on how much time you’re really spending on that not-so-fulfilling habit. It compels you to face a harsh but necessary reality.
Replace bad habits with better ones
Eliminating unsavory habits is only part of the process. It’s important to understand that replacing negative habits with better and more positive ones is much more effective than simply trying to get rid of bad habits.
If you decide to stop playing video games three hours every day, what are you going to do instead? If you have no clear plan on how to use that time, you’ll very likely go back to your old habits. Your brain likes the status quo, so, if you don’t give it anything else to focus on, it will guide you back to playing video games.
In the previous section, I mentioned interrupting your activity to do something else you enjoy. So what was this other activity that you enjoy? Surely there’s more than one. What kind of things could you do that can get wrapped up in pretty quickly? Maybe it’s reading and writing? Or perhaps it’s cooking? What about exercising? Chances are, you have plenty of options. Just ask yourself the following question: What activity could satisfy the emotional needs that I’ve been using my bad habit to cope with?
Visualize the future cost of today's bad habits
Can you imagine what your life will be like 20 years from now if you fail to eliminate that bad habit? When it comes to improving our lives, imagination is one of the most powerful tools we have. Our imaginations allow us to use our minds to create whatever experiences we want at any given time.
You can enjoy various scenarios and situations in your mind as often as you like without spending a dime. This is why professional athletes, chess players, army generals, CEOs, and other successful people use visualization on a daily basis.
We all use visualization, even if it’s on a subconscious level. The problem is that, if you’re like most people, you’re probably visualizing negative things. You might be worrying about the future and visualize yourself losing your job or failing an exam. You might also be dwelling on and visualizing the past.
In the exercise below, we’re going to use both positive and negative visualization to help you get rid of your bad habits.
Visualize Your Negative Habit
- Visualize yourself engaging in your bad habit throughout the day. How does it make you feel?
- Now visualize yourself doing it for the next 30 days.
- Next, imagine yourself doing it for a whole year. Imagine the disappointment of the people around you, and think of how it will negatively impact your life.
- Finally, imagine yourself 10 years from now. Visualize the habit getting stronger, as habits almost always grow stronger with time. How do you feel? Focus on the pain associated with having had this destructive habit in your life for a decade. How has it impacted your life? How would that prevent you from reaching your potential and living a truly fulfilling life?
Visualize Your Positive Habit
- Visualize your new positive habit, and imagine yourself doing it today. What feelings does this bring up?
- Now, visualize yourself sticking to this new habit for the next 30 days.
- Next, imagine engaging in this habit for an entire year. How does it affect your life? How much difference does it make? Imagine its benefits, and what it has allowed you to accomplish.
- Finally, imagine yourself 10 years down the line with the new habit still in place. How has this new habit transformed your life? What impact has it had on those around you? How much happiness and fulfillment has it brought you?
From procrastination to action
“Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.” - Napoleon Hill
The urge to procrastinate is often strongest just as we begin to work on our most important tasks. Procrastination is a huge obstacle that can seriously limit your productivity.
On one hand, you’re driven by fear and a powerful urge to escape. On the other, you’re really passionate about what you're trying to do and want to start working on it already.
The question is: how do you replace the paralysis of procrastination with action? It’s not going to be easy, but the following three-step formula will help tremendously:
1. Eliminate Distractions
The first order of business is to leave as little room for distractions as possible. When you feel the urge to procrastinate, you’ll find yourself interested in anything but your task. Stay one step ahead of distractions by identifying potential procrastination patterns. When are you wasting time and why? Is it procrastination or inefficient prioritizing that’s draining your time?
Use the results of your time log investigation to create a Not-To-Do List based on the results you get from the time log and put the list on your desk. My list looks something like this:
- Don’t check emails
- Don’t check Twitter or Youtube
- Don’t go for a walk
- Don’t check my phone
- Don’t eat
- Don’t go to the convenience store to buy a drink
The next line of defense is removing all distractions from your desk. You should also plan your tasks in advance, prepare your environment, and give yourself a way to jot down intrusive thoughts.
Keep phones, books, food, and other such items far away. The day before you start working on your task, spend some time visualizing yourself doing it. This will help you condition your mind and decrease the risk of distractions.
You can prepare your environment by readying the tools you’ll need for your task ahead of time. Make sure everything is easily accessible. Do any and everything you can to make things as effortless as possible.
Last but not least, keep a piece of paper on hand in case something pops into your mind as you’re working. Use it to write down any ideas or lightbulb moments that come to you. Otherwise, you’ll remember something you forgot to do and decide to work on it... only to end up spending an hour on Twitter.
2. Become Aware of Your Fears and Emotions
Get in touch with the feelings that come up as you gear up to work on your task.
Be aware of your feelings when you start working on an important task Use a time log to bring awareness on the way you’re using your time.
3. Reduce the Friction Associated with Starting the Task
It’s essential to reduce the discomfort involved in beginning your task. You can accomplish this through visualization. Consider your current feelings and imagine how you’ll feel once your task is completed. If that doesn’t work, just start and see what happens. Tell yourself you’ll only work for a few minutes. You can handle almost anything for five minutes, right?
If fear is still getting the best of you, accept the possibility that you may not do as good of a job as you’d like. Make it okay to do poorly. The reality is that you probably won’t do badly unless you’re extremely tired. And if you really think you’ll do a subpar job, what makes you think you’ll do any better tomorrow or next week? After all, your plan was to work on it today.
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- Habits that stick by Thibaut Meurisse