Bad habits run the gamut from small, mostly innocent things (like cracking your knuckles, or oversleeping) to larger, more damaging things (like smoking, or drinking excessively). But when it comes to breaking a bad habit, it usually doesn't matter if it's big or small — it's almost always incredibly difficult to change your ways.
I mean, think how many times you swore you'd wake up earlier, or drink less coffee, or finally ditch your smoking habit. Even though you knew all the positives that would come with such changes, you still likely hit that snooze alarm, stopped by the coffee shop, or reached for your pack of cigarettes.
While some people can go cold turkey and change their ways overnight, most of us only make it a few days before giving in. And this is totally normal. "Habits are hard to break for various reasons," says Nicole Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC, in an email to Bustle. "For one thing, if the habit is something that we have always been doing, it is very hard to start to do something a completely different way. Also, as human beings, we are driven by the pleasure principal." This is what makes us give into the "sins" of life.
Even though it seems like an uphill journey, it is still possible to quit a bad habit. To make it truly stick, you have to plan ahead, get to the root of the issue, and commit to making a change — once and for all. Read on for some ways to get started.
1. Make The Decision To Break The Habit
You can only change what you decide you want to change, according to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., on Psychology Today. So promise yourself that this is it —you're gonna make changes, and they're gonna happen now. If you can fully commit to breaking your habit, you'll be putting yourself in the right mindset.
2. Go For Smaller Changes At First
If the idea of an all-at-once lifestyle shift worries you, then it's OK to start off with small changes. Think about smoking a few less cigarettes per day, or slowly adding in more fruits and veggies to your current diet. "This way [you] will make a lifestyle change and achieve long-term success, versus having a restrictive goal [you can't] maintain," Martinez says.
3. View Your New Lifestyle As A Good Thing
Breaking a bad habit seems one thousand times more difficult if you view it as giving up something you love. So instead of feeling all sad and deprived, go into the change enthusiastically. Once you feel like you actually want to improve your life, your new habits will be more likely to stick.
4. Don't Give Up If You Mess Up
One of the hardest parts about breaking a habit is the whole "falling off the wagon" thing. After going a few days sans bad habit, it feels absolutely awful to give into temptation — and you might even feel like quitting. If this happens, remember that slipping up is totally normal. "Remind yourself that you have the tools and knowledge, and you can pick yourself up and start again," Martinez says.
5. Figure Out Why You Have This Habit
"Some bad habits just feel good, so we keep repeating them," Whitbourne said. "They may also make our other problems ... temporarily go away, and this relief becomes another source of reinforcement." So take the time to dig deep and figure out why you need a drink, or why you're always running late. Are you stressed out? Are you depressed? If you can get to the root of the issue, it may help break the habit.
6. Be Hyper Aware Of Your Bad Habit
"Often, we repeat bad habits without even realizing we're doing them," said lifestyle writer Melanie Pinola on Lifehacker.com. If this is so you, then it can help to catch yourself in the act. Become hyper aware of your habit, and consider jotting down a note each time you do it. Seeing the habit written down will reveal its patterns, which you can then start to avoid.
7. Get Your Friends Involved
The moment you decide to make a change, let your friends know. "Tell them your goal and tell them your plan," said lifestyle writer Chris Widener on Success.com. This way, you'll have lots of people holding you accountable. Plus, if your friends somehow aid in your habit (by drinking, or smoking) they will know not to tempt you.
8. Change Up Your Routine
Changing up your daily routine is a great way to get out of a rut, and snap out of a bad habit, according to Pinola. For example, if you're trying to drink less coffee, then don't walk by your favorite cafe on the way to work. Or, if you always want to scarf down loads of sugar at 3 p.m., trying going for a walk around that time instead.
9. Think Negatively About Your Habit
If you find yourself day dreaming about standing outside and smoking on a beautiful day, it'll be pretty hard to stop yourself from lighting up. But if you focus in on all the negative health affects from smoking, reaching for your pack will seem less enticing. As Pinola said, "Catch yourself thinking any positive thoughts or feelings about your bad habits and reframe them to remind you of the negative aspects."
10. List All The Positives That Will Come From Change
Try making a list of all the good that will come from quitting your old ways. "Make them positive. Make the list long," said Widener. "You are making connections between stopping the bad behavior with what good things you will get from doing so." Let those things float around your mind instead.
11. Have A Go-To Plan For When You Mess Up
Unless you have near god-like willpower, you'll probably mess up along the way. And that's totally OK. Just make sure you know what you'll do next. "Have a plan to get back on track and use the relapse as a way to understand what happened and how you can avoid it next time," Pinola said. Then pick yourself up, and start again.
Breaking a bad habit may be difficult, but it's not impossible. If you set your mind to it, and don't give up at the slightest sign of difficulty, you'll be more likely to have success.
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