Bad Habits and How to Break Them
First off you have to decide whether a habit [or behaviour] that you engage in is actually bad.
Secondly I suppose you’d need to decide if you want to get rid of it.
Let’s assume for this discussion that smoking and over indulging in alcohol and food are bad habits.
Often we indulge in them because somehow we feel supported by them in certain contexts.
Frequently in social occasions, a puff of a cigarette seems to help us keep calm. It is in fact a prop that helps fill in the gaps say in conversation or gives us something to do so we don’t feel like a ‘jerk’ just standing around.
A drink will offer much the same, and a few more will ‘relax’ you and somehow you seem to be much better in conversation.
Food, or too much food, will really sneak up on you. It is so easy to just grab a snack in between activities. I have heard it called eating for nurture not nature.
We have taught ourselves to ignore our body’s signals. Obesity is becoming a global epidemic with associated health issues.
Whatever the habit or behaviour, you can change or eliminate them.
Investigative journalist Charles Duhigg writes in his book ‘The Power of Habit’, that all habits have three components; a cue [or trigger for a particular behavior], a routine [the behavior itself] and a reward [how your brain decides whether to remember a habit].
Scientists believe that the key to breaking bad habits is to break the cue-routine- reward cycle.
Duhigg offers a four step process which looks very similar to how I work as a coach.
1. Identify the routine
2. Experiment with rewards – let’s say switch an unhealthy snack with a piece of fruit.
3. Isolate the cue – there are five of them; location, time of day, emotional state, people around you and what happened before the behavior.
4. Have a plan.
In reality, none of the above is easy if you are ‘hooked’ on something.
In my mind you have to decide whether you want to keep the habit or not.
Then you need to look for the circumstances that ‘cause the habit’. Keep a log or journal on this [reference 3 above] and notice the patterns. What reward will you use to help?
Lastly your plan: As in all goal setting, getting from where you are to where you want to be can be a great big yawning gulf. However, a series of small easily achievable action steps do add up to closing that gap over time.
Each success with these small steps builds belief that, yes, you can change.
This is the essence of personal and self development.
I recall my giving up smoking. I had made many attempts to ‘cut down’ in order to eventually give up. This never worked. One day at a conference, we noticed a colleague from out of town was not smoking – he had been a heavy smoker as we all were back then.” Hey Kerry have you cut down?” We asked. “No” he replied, “I don’t smoke.”
Therein lay the clue to Kerry’s success. He had decided to stop smoking. He threw the cigarettes out of his car window and told himself – and others – “I don’t smoke.” Not I have quit or any acknowledgement of his having even been a smoker.
I tried this a few years later – when I was motivated enough to drop the habit. And it worked!
Now I don’t suggest that a cold turkey strategy such as this is easy or in fact will work for you, but it does demonstrate that it is possible to break the chains of addictive behaviours.
As the saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
For what it’s worth, I took up smoking at age 8 and quit when I was 35. So I had been ‘at it’ for quite a while.
Need any help with breaking your habits? Send me an email.
Bad Habits and How to Break Them