How To Break Bad Habits

Bad habits are one of the biggest targets for resolutions in the new year, but very prone to failure. Replacing bad habits with new behaviour can be tough, but it’s not impossible. Here are a few great tips to help.

Photo by Morgan

Properly Categorise Your Bad Habit

It’s easy to toss your recurring problems into the bad habit category, but that’s not always where they belong. Biting your nails is a bad habit, for example, but smoking is not. Smoking is a substance addiction, and so is caffeine. You might consider your use of both substances to be excessive and label it a bad habit, but it’s a bit more than that. The same goes for overspending and finding yourself in debt, or anything that finds good company with obsessive behaviour. Bad habits are little things that you can fix with a few tricks. Obsessive behaviour and substance addiction requires a bit more work, so make sure you concentrate on those issues separately and don’t try to break them as easily as you might be able to with a simple habit.

Make Your Bad Habit a Public Affair

If you consider a habit bad, chances are it’s also embarrassing. If you tell everyone about your habit (assuming they don’t already know), you get two new benefits. First, you’ll be encouraged to stop because others will likely tell you that you should. Second, if someone else has the same habit they might want to try and quit with you. If they’ve already quit, they may also have some good techniques for your specific problem. Also, if you have a few people you can ask to bug you about your progress you’ll be accountable. All of these things can help urge you to stay on track as you try to kick your bad habit.

Take It Slow and Practise Your New Behaviour

If you’ve ever tried to diet and found that it worked well for a few weeks, only to suddenly give into an enormous craving to binge on snack foods and desserts, you know your willpower is limited. Changing habits can exhaust you because you’re substituting new behaviours for old ones. The new ones take effort to remember, which make your life especially frustrating when you forget, and all this extra thinking takes energy. Your habits are easier and more comfortable, even when they’re bad, because they’re actions you don’t have to think about. This problem brings about two solutions.

First, change slowly. If you’re trying to stop biting your nails, commit to stop biting one nail per week but let yourself bite the others. Add a new nail each week until all 10 are off-limits. If you’re worried you’ll forget which nail, just mark it with a pen or nail polish. When you take it slowly you can ease yourself into the new behaviour and make it a lot less stressful.

Second, if you can practice the new, better behaviour then you should practice it as much as you can. This will help make the new behaviour stick much faster. While you can’t practice not biting your nails, you can practice the action of stopping yourself. As tedious and weird as this may sound, it can actually help. While your attention is split (when you’re watching TV, for example), put a finger in your mouth like you’re going to bite your nail but then take it out. Keep repeating this action with different fingers for a good while. It won’t take too long before you learn a new muscle memory: removing your fingers when you’re about to bite.

These tricks don’t just work with nail biting. They can be applied to everything. They can seem a little weird, but they can be very effective.

Got any other great advice for giving a bad habit the boot? Let’s hear it in the comments!

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