In my previous post about habits, I promised to offer solutions for defeating bad ones…
Ha! What was I thinking? I’m no psychologist and this is a pretty technical subject when you really get into it. But as with most of what I write here, I’ll offer my non-expert advice based on my own experiences, things I’ve read, what has worked for me, and what I am trying now (since I’m definitely not beyond bad habits myself).
– Figure out what you WANT to be doing instead
This sounds pretty obvious, but it’s a simple step that is often taken for granted. It’s easy to say, “this habit I’ve developed is unhealthy or destructive; I should stop.” But you can’t just chastise bad behavior–you have to present an alternative to replace it.
Since we moved, I still have some sense of being disembodied and we haven’t developed normal routines. But we humans are remarkably adaptable and can settle even into routines that are uncomfortable. In the absence of a healthy routine, whatever is easiest slides right into the opening (like spending the evening on the couch watching TV).
We need to ask the question, “what should I be doing instead of this bad behavior?” because it will be much easier to break a habit if you replace it with a new one.
– Identify current roadblocks and figure out if there are ways you can deal with them
The other night, after confessing in my post that I’ve become a lazy slob, the universe sent a reminder that it’s not all my fault — in the form of our crazy downstairs neighbours who, as usual, were up yelling and laughing at 2am, and then again from 4-6 am. So despite my intention to get up and do yoga first thing in the morning, I reset my alarm somewhere around 3:30am to give myself an extra hour of sleep.
We are trying to deal with this neighbour situation. But until it’s resolved, there are some mornings when I legitimately can’t keep up my ideal routine. Perhaps part of the solution then is to try to build a workout into a different part of the day. You have to be open to the idea that your ideal scenario just might not be possible, and flexible enough to adopt alternatives.
– Tap into your strong motivations and/or find a way to build in accountability
Sometimes just knowing that something is good for us is not enough to make us do it. In these instances, I’m not above resorting to bribery or coercion. For example, I am cheap. I don’t have a lot of money, so I am careful not to waste it. So with that, if I’ve paid for something like a gym membership, not wanting to waste the money is a strong enough motivator to make me go.
Similarly, if I’ve joined a team, the idea that other people are counting on me keeps me going consistently. That’s the built-in accountability. It can be as simple as setting clear goals or targets. “I will write 3 posts/week.” Put it into your schedule. It’s much more tangible than just saying, “I want to write more.”
– Go for a change of scenery
Habits are often triggered by cues in our environment that recall that behavior, like smokers wanting a cigarette after a meal or with drinks. Removing yourself from these cues (or removing the cue) is a good way to avoid the bad habit and replace it with a good one. At the moment, my new apartment is basically one big cue for me to be lazy. I’m working on ways to change that, but in the meantime I’ve decided that when I want to get work done (like writing), it’s out the door for me! This week, I went to the new coffee shop in our neighbourhood and have decided it will be My Spot (which in itself is motivating because I’ve always wanted a Spot!). We’re in the city now–might as well take advantage of what it has to offer!
If you’d like to read a more studied and scientific take on habits, check out this episode of NPR’s Fresh Air. It confirms some of what I said, debunks some other impressions, and gives you a greater sense of what’s going on in your brain! Most importantly, it will verify that there is indeed hope for breaking bad habits!
What approaches do you use to break bad habits or form good ones?