How Do I Break a Bad Habit?

I'm happy we're talking about this, because honestly, it's better than not talking about it. When we talk about things, our ability to manage them is increased.

iuri melo
iuri melo

My friends, everyday I'm more impressed by your willingness to share your thoughts, ideas, and questions with us.  This is such a terrific question, and one that people have pondered for millenia, in addition to the multitude of books that have been written to help people break unwanted habits, and on the positive side, how to create helpful, fun, healthy, and life enhancing habits.  My friends I am in, and am excited to provide you with some tools to break those habits that you do not want in your life - and these could be:

  • Nail biting
  • Procrastinating
  • Poor time management
  • Poor eating habits
  • Smoking, drinking, using drugs, vaping
  • Spending too much time on your phone
  • Being lazy
  • Viewing inappropriate things
  • Harming yourself
  • Or other behaviors and actions that may be harmful to you, and that you just don't want to do anymore.

I'm happy we're talking about this, because honestly, it's better than not talking about it.  When we talk about things, our ability to manage them is increased.  When we keep secrets, or silently continue to fight things internally, without ever expressing them or asking for a little help, it's often significantly more difficult for us to stop doing those things that you have identified as no longer helpful, productive, fun, or straight up intelligent.  By the way, if you're up and mature enough to pick up a self-help book, there is a great book that I guarantee will help you break your unwanted habits, and help you to create some new ones.  This is book is called “Atomic Habits,” I believe that it can be very helpful for you… go to your school library and check it out.  

Let me start here though.  Whenever you think about habits, I want you to think about patterns, because your first step to stopping or beginning a new habit, is just understanding who we are, how your brain functions, and how your body interacts with that brain.  I also want you to understand that beneath your habits and behavior patterns, are sometimes ideas, and belief systems that either encourage those unwanted habits, or that make it hard for you to start new ones. Think of that like the root system of a tree.  We don't want to just start hacking at the branches of a tree, we want to cut things off at the root when possible.  

Ok, so first things first:

  • Your brain is a pattern creation tool.  It's a shortcut machine, and it's absolutely genius.  Basically, the brain begins to learn a pattern - whether it's driving, or golfing, or playing the piano, or working a math problem, or running, or reading - and then makes these internal connections inside of your brain, so that it becomes a shortcut… what that means is that you no longer need to think about it.  You can just drive, walk, run, jump, do a backflip, type, etc.  It's awesome!  We should live in gratitude and awe that housed in that lovely cranium of yours, is the most sophisticated piece of hardware and software in the entire universe… I mean it.  You've most likely heard me say, whatever you repeatedly and consistently ask your brain and body to do, it will learn how to do it, without one simple complaint.  Whether it's brushing your teeth, playing guitar hero, throwing a pot on a pottery wheel, painting, or throwing the javelin.  You and I are absolutely remarkable.  Your body and brain will literally become a physical manifestation of your choices and habits over time.  And by the way, your brain will never stop doing this, for the rest of your life.  
  • But of course, as it is with most things, that same system that can liberate and free you, can also imprison you, and make your life feel very difficult and at times even miserable.  That same system that can create wonderful and beneficial habits, will also create unhealthy ones.  Some of these negative habits are particularly hard because of how they impact your thoughts and your feelings, and as a result, individuals who get caught up in drugs, violence, smoking, alcohol, eating junk food, or other harmful habits, find themselves feeling a bit stuck, and at times even in great despair and hopelessness.  By the way, if this is the case for you… seriously my friend, find someone that is trustworthy, and helpful, share your concerns and fears with them, and give yourself some wings and power. 
  • One of the things that will be very helpful to you is awareness.  Think of awareness as simply learning to see and observe yourself.  The more awareness you develop… in other words, the more you see of yourself, the better able you are to manage yourself.  We often walk around with a bunch of blind spots… and sometimes other people can help us to see and recognize those, which in turn, if you are humble enough to drop your ego, can motivate you to make some pretty cool changes in your life.

I'm explaining this to you because i want you to understand… i want you to see yourself as less of a “Well… this is just who I am” and instead I want you to see yourself a little more scientifically, a little more flexible and dynamic, and by now you know that this quality… this psychological flexibility… your ability to be dynamic is one of those concepts that I just want to gently hammer into your brain… you are a creature of evolution and progression, not stagnation, and stagnation is death!... but i regress… I want you to see yourself as someone who is not only capable of change, but is always changing.  

So let's talk about tools and some strategies that will help you to move away from these habits or patterns that you are hiding from everyone else, that cause you embarrassment, shame, and that in some cases, are just unhealthy for you.  So remember that book that I talked about… Atomic Habits, the author James Clear teaches us some simple steps to help you create awesome habits, and of course, some steps to help you stop doing harmful and unwise things.  

So, if you want to create a new habit, he gives you 4 rules that will help you to be successful.

  1. Make the new habit Obvious.  Obvious means visible; close by; within reach; easy to remember; easy to see; something that places that new habit, in front of your face, and at the top of your mind.  
  2. Make it attractive.  Attractive just means that you need to think about why you want to do this new habit.  Why do you want to exercise? Learn the guitar? Study better? Become more confident? Run faster?  Connect with the ‘why' and it will provide you with some additional drive and motivation to help you get started and also to help you keep going when things get difficult.  By the way, don't just do this in your head.  Write it down.
  3. Make it Easy.  Do everything in your power to make this new habit, behavior, skill as easy as possible.  If you want to learn to play the guitar, don't keep your guitar in the closet, put it as close to you as possible, and where you tend to hang out most of the time.  Want to exercise in the morning? Set your clothes and running shoes out, set an alarm, and get an exercise buddy.  Want to eat better? Hide the crappy food, and make the good and healthy food visible and easy to reach.  It's all about the easy button baby.
  4. Make it satisfying.  Do whatever you can to make your new habit a good and fun experience.  Include people in your goals, give yourself a little reward for taking some positive steps, create an awesome playlist to listen to, or watch something cool while you are doing your new habit. 

So now, if you are looking to break a habit, simpy take these rules, and turn them on their head, and you've got your “how do i break a bad habit?” answer.

  1. Make it invisible:  whatever things make your unwanted habit easy to do… hide them, put them out of sight, out of reach, put a password on it, screen time, delete it, and make it hard to get to.  If your habit is something that you do privately, keep your bedroom open, go to where people are, spend time away from people that feed those negative habits, and drift toward those who do different things.
  2. Make it unattractive.  Why do you want to stop?  What's your reasoning?  Once again, connect to the “why” you would want to stop doing this pattern, and write it down.
  3. Make it difficult.  Similar to making it invisible, make it hard for you to engage in the pattern you are trying to change.  Ask yourself, and be honest with yourself for heaven's sake, what can I do, and where would I have to be, to make it really hard for me to do this behavior?  And then take steps to modify your environment (where you can of course) to make this easy for you.
  4. And lastly, make it unsatisfying.  If the pattern you are engaging in is always met with an unsatisfying end, you will over time, move closer and closer to overcoming that obstacle and behavior.  

According to James Clear, all behavior change has to work with those 4 rules, or it just won't stick in the long haul.

He gives 3 other suggestions that I think are key to you being successful in the long run.

  1. Set a goal.  At some point, we have to make these things known, and deliberately move toward making them happen.
  2. Change your system.  This is a really key part to making things easy, obvious, and attractive.  In other words, change the things that are happening around the habits that either make them easy or difficult to continue or change… think of an alcoholic hanging out at the bar… hard to change, because his system is doomed to fail… his context will make it incredibly likely that he will fail.  
  3. The third and deepest layer is changing your identity.  Goals are about what you get.  Systems are about what you do.  Identity is about who you are and what you believe.  So begin by focusing first on who you wish to become as a person, and build from there. 

Ok my friend.  There is much more to know, and many other tools that can be really useful for you, but I hope that these ideas can encourage and motivate you to begin the process.  Remember, at times change happens over time, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little.  Trust the Process!!  HoHoSo move forward patiently, and in an encouraging manner.  Best of luck to you, and I'll chat with you later!