Start Small When Changing Bad Habits

Recognising bad habits is one thing, doing something about them is an entirely different problem. Trying to instantly adapt to a new state of “normal” — a state where the habit doesn’t exist or at least persists in a less harmful incarnation — can not only be overwhelming, but disruptive. There are, however, ways to make the task less difficult.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits recommends making a small change to your habits, until the altered state becomes normal. Then, you make another slight adjustment and so on and so on, until you reach the state you’re happy with. Babauta explains why this is a much more effective strategy than making massive changes:

However, for most people, changing is tough because there’s some pain in changing. When you have a problem, there is the pain it causes in your life, but there’s also a pain of trying to change it. When the payoff of trying to change is outweighed by the pay off of continuing the old way, people stick with what they’re comfortable with.

How do we overcome this problem of the pain of change? … Start small, start with one thing at a time, and make the change easier. You want to make changing the path of least resistance, because change usually isn’t for most people.

Babauta uses the example of reducing the sugar in his coffee. He went from two teaspoons to one-and-a-half until he couldn’t recognise the difference in sweetness from memory and then cut it down again.

Image: kenji aryan / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal [Zen Habits, via 99u]

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