Habits – good or bad – are formed through repetition. The things you do each day can start to form an unhealthy routine if you’re making the wrong choices. Those behaviors become automatic, and when you’ve formed bad habits it’s often hard to break them. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful list of tips for breaking bad habits that will help you get back on track.
(For a list of bad habits, read 10 Bad Habits That Weaken The Immune System.)
Once you identify the behavior that you want to change, there are a few goals you need to set. The first is the date that you want to begin. If it’s right before the holidays, you might want to wait until afterwards to cut sweets out of your diet. Adjusting the schedule for your goals in order to avoid excessive temptation is a good way to help yourself succeed in kicking a bad habit.
When you start trying to get rid of a bad habit, try to keep track of your progress and note the times that you fail. This can help you find patterns where you’re most likely to give into temptation so that you can avoid those situations in the future. Using a daily journal or even starting a blog will also help motivate you to stick to your goal day in and day out.
Keep in mind that you don’t always have to go cold turkey. For instance, this will be especially hard if you are trying to quit smoking or cut back on your caffeine intake. Similarly, you can’t bust your bad habit of skipping workouts by forcing yourself to run 5 miles every day. Ease into your new routine and give yourself time to adjust if necessary.
(For 10 of the worst habits people have concerning health, read Top 10 Unhealthy Habits You Need To Break.)
Sometimes your old routines – even those that seem unrelated to your bad habit – can hold you back from making a change. For example, you might want to drive a different way home from work if your old route has you tempted to stop for a fast food dinner. Avoid friends whom you tend to smoke or drink around, or meet them in places where these aren’t the main activities.
Availability is one of the biggest hindrances to kicking a bad habit, so try to make your vices unavailable whenever possible. You may not be able to avoid someone bringing in a cake for a coworkers birthday, but you can choose to not buy any snacks to keep at your desk at work or in your own home. If you have a bad habit of biting your nails, try painting them regularly to remind yourself that they should be left alone.
Keep in mind that getting rid of a bad habit is usually a tough journey. According to the National Institutes of Health, self-control is much like a muscle in that after you exercise it, it may be temporarily tired. Basically, you may think you have your bad habit under control only to give into temptation the next day. Setbacks are to be expected – instead of being discouraged, find ways to avoid them or try new strategies for resisting temptation.
While you might want to cut out sweets to lose weight for your wedding that’s six months away, it’s better to focus on the day-to-day habits you’re kicking. The temptation for those bad habits might be stronger than you expected, and if your only motivation is off in the future, you may be more likely to give up. With this kind of challenge, it’s better to go one day at a time.
According to the National Institutes of Health, one of the best ways to kick a bad habit is to replace with a good one. Some of our bad habits become ritualistic or compulsive, so the best way to get rid of them is to replace them with a new ritual. For instance, instead of getting into the habit of lying around watching TV after work, go for a brisk walk or a run instead. Having an alternative behavior can help you resist the urge to fall back into your old routine. Considering that this has worked for some people with drug addictions, it’s worth giving it a shot since you’re not likely to suffer from a compulsion that serious.
Don’t shy away from using incentives to motivate you to stick to your goals. However, it might be more helpful to use rewards that are unrelated to your bad habit. For instance, if you’re trying to give up sweets, don’t reward your hard work to stay away from them with a giant piece of cake. Instead, put a dollar in a jar for every day that you go without sweets, then use that money to buy yourself a new pair of jeans since your old ones may be too big before you know it. The same can be done with the money you would’ve used to buy cigarettes or your daily coffee.
(If you’re looking for ideas to motivate you to exercise, check out 10 Great Ways To Motivate Yourself To Exercise.)
If you’ve successfully kicked your coffee addiction, don’t think that you can easily have a cup or two here and there whenever you want. Be careful about how much you allow yourself to go back to your old vices once they’re gone – depending on the bad habit, the temptation can come back more strongly than you’d expected.
While kicking bad habits can be hard, it’s often a key to living a healthier, happier life. Take stock of the things that you could change and start setting goals to get rid of the back habits that have crept into your routine.