21 Aug 8 Ways How to Break Bad Habits and Create New Ones Instead – For Good!
So I woke up this morning, painfully thinking of last night when I had enjoyed too much of those great spaghetti aglio e olio and cool white wine for dinner. Pinot gris, just to let you know. On a beautiful summer night in Southern Germany, this was my way to get rid of the travel stress and tension. A bad habit!
Speaking of bad habits and how to break them: I used to fight them.
That’s why I decided: no dinner for me today. And to go running – that same day as well as on a regular basis from this minute on. For an hour, at least twice a week. This was the minimum I had to do in order to stay (or better: become) fit. I started highly motivated, but ended up going once or twice and then found a heap full of good excuses.
Accompanied by feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction. As usual.
If you recognize yourself here – and it doesn’t matter if you just want to skip the chocolate bar after dinner or if you want to quit shouting at your kids or your partner for no reason – something has to be done about your (and my) bad habits.
Bad Habits in the Cupboard?
I personally am THE creature of habits – you will probably find nobody as imprisoned to her routines than I am – at the same time knowing exactly what I could do about it to be a “better me”. But, often proved, I am too lazy or busy with planning and going on trips to get it done the permanent way. By myself. Without external control.
I once tried to learn Spanish (and still want to pick that up again sometime). I was getting along really well as long as someone was standing in front of me, teaching and explaining. All I had to do was listen and do the homework someone had assigned me to. I knew they would write a test on the material, so I studied. And I liked it a lot! As soon as the class was over I decided (for money reasons) to keep studying by myself, maybe webbased or in finding a real life practice partner. Well, until today, I didn’t even manage to download the babbel – app.
Probably a couple of you might have experienced similar things. Or else you wouldn’t be reading this text. Maybe you even have managed to get rid of a bad habit just by the strength of your will – I admire you for having achieved that, I haven’t.
Trigger Situations Foster Bad Habits
Especially on the road, I tend to develop new bad habits. Not sure about the reason for that – probably because of the constantly higher stress level compared to home (planning, organizing, exploring, being together 24/7..).
With rising stress levels, my ways of “relaxing” became unhealthy. After putting the kids to bed, I would start having some chocolate, then eat the remains of dinner, enjoy a glass of wine, the list goes on. This made me gain some serious weight. Even more so since I quit sports because I just wasn’t able to bring up the necessary power to exercise in addition to our turbulent family life on the road. Which again resulted in putting on more kilos. Making me feel unhappy and dissatisfied.
A vicious circle – sure you all know what I’m talking about.
I had to pull myself out of this situation, I realized. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the dream I was actually living.
I have read a whole lot of articles and some books about how to vanquish your inner temptations over the years and I think I have finally found a way for myself. Not so so easy, but very much more convenient than trying to break bad habits. Which I learned is the precise opposite of the way our brain is working – and therefore costs me (and you) lots of energy.
How to Break Your Bad Habits
In its core, it is as easy as compelling: we should create new habits instead of fighting the old ones.
To me, this statement is completely logical in itself. Just think about it: one person makes about 200 decisions a day – most of them without even realising and therefore without spending energy on them. Because they are habits. Studies found out that we spend about 1/3 of our lives on “autopilot” – brushing teeth, doing laundry, showering. Even driving a car has become a habit (or do you ever think about which side of the road to drive on? Or what to do when the light turns red?).
All we need is more “good” habits! Even very small changes, so-called “atomic habits” have a huge impact on our daily life, states author and entrepreneur James Clear.
Habit – the word sounds so harmless, but still they reign our lives. Our habits spare us a lot of time and energy – just imagine having to think about how to fill up the dishwasher every day or where to put your jacket and shoes in the evening. On the other hand, bad habits like smoking or eating fast food can ruin our health. And are very hard to overcome. You could also (very simplified) look at an addiction (alcohol, drugs or tv-series) as a bad habit that has gotten out of control.
Every kind of counseling nowadays includes behavioural changes to break bad habits. And what else is that than creation of new habits?
“There is no better friend than a good habit and no worse enemy than a bad one”
(T. Hürter, Zeit WISSEN 01/02 2018)
Trigger – Routine – Reward
We all know how bad habits are formed: mostly by stress and boredom, sometimes by underlying issues you first have to become aware of. For example, you are nervous and smoke a cigarette, then get an instant reward, the stress relief. You repeat this action over and over again, and there you have your new habit.
Now it is important to know that you cannot just break a bad habit with the strength of your will. Habits are stored in a deep, ancient part of our brain, the limbic system. This area probably already led the dinosaurs’ ways. For that reason habits are not easily influenced by rational thought and will, which are part of the youngest area of our brain, the so-called neokortex. We have to find another, more reliant and promising possibility.
In the end, it all comes down to this: we need to outthink our limbic system.
When I was reading this, I thought: uhm, right, nothing could be simpler!
The Only Way to Permanently Break a Bad Habit is to Create a New One
Don’t fight against the old ones only to watch them laugh at your efforts from the off. You’ll end up gaining even more weight or standing outside in the rain chain smoking. Or yelling at your kids because you are so stressed to keep yourself under control that you totally loose it at some point.
So, if you want to truly get rid of those bad, old habits and create new, healthy ones: Don’t think it’s going to be an overnight thing. Creating habits naturally takes time. Remember, we are trying to store new things away in this ancient part of the brain. Needs lots of time and practice to do it right.
Let me get this straight: creating new habits is anything but easy. It’s just as hard as fighting old ones. There’s some hard work coming up in the first couple of weeks after you made the decsion to make this change.
The difference is: it will become a self-runner, as soon as the new habit is cemented.
Here are my 8 Tips on How to Manage Creating a New Habit and this way get rid of the old one for good:
1. Find a Good, Rewarding Alternative
This is the key to success and also the hard one. No matter what, in the beginning, no alternative will instantly release as many endorphines as the good old, bad habit did. Meaning nothing will feel as good! Think well of what will satisfy your emotional self. Instead of having the second glass of red wine in the evening, for example find a cozy place on your terrace or balcony and watch the sunset with an espresso/tea/calorie-free soft drink. And yes, stick to it!
2. Think Positive
Avoid telling yourself “I am spending too much time on social media in the evenings”, rather say “From now on, I will enjoy a fine cup of herbal tea and a piece of fruit after dinner instead of sitting in front of the stupid monitor.” Use the word “but” to overcome negative thinking: ” I shout at my partner all the time, but I am working on being more friendly and finding rational ways to express myself.”
3. Get Support
Maybe your partner or friend wants to get healthy eating habits, too? Makes it a lot easier to stick to the challenge until the new behavior has become a habit. If you have anger issues, find a community with the same problem. In our digital age there are people with the same problem as yours everywhere. Noone is alone.
4. Be Concrete
It’s better to say “Before I start yelling at the kids again, I will turn around and remind myself that I am the grown up and that I have the responsibility to teach my children a healthy and constructive way on how to argue” instead of just “I will not yell at the kids again”. Easily said, I know – and one I struggle with too.
5. Keep it Simple
Or start low, go slow. It would not work trying to overcome 3 – 5 bad habits at a time. Better pick the one or two that bother you the most or will have the biggest impact on your life. Work on them, then go further. And simplify your new habits as much as possible.
6. Avoid Trigger Situations
Sometimes it’s as easy as that. If you fall asleep on the couch at 9 p.m. instead of getting on with the book you want to read, just stay at the kitchen table or cuddle up in a comfy chair (not too comfy!), prepare a cup of coffee and get going as soon as the kids are in bed. If you eat up all the cookies when you see them in the house, stop buying them. If you smoke when you drink alcohol, don’t drink.
7. Spend Time with People who Live the Way You Want to Live
Get out of your comfort zone. Discuss the books you read with a book-lover instead of watching TV. New people can show you what it’s like living healthier or stopping gaming online. Old friends and situations might trigger the bad habit you want to get rid of. I’m not saying ditch your old friends, but meeting new ones can give you an incredible piece of motivation which you will need to stick to your new habits. They help you visualize the life you want.
8. Link a New Habit to an Old One
This way you will be reminded of the new behavior as soon as you complete the old one. This is easy to do for smaller things. For instance, every time you brush your teeth, do 30 sit-ups afterwards. Maybe put a motivating picture next to your toothbrush so you wont’t forget about it. You will get some exercise each day – and it will only cost you 2 minutes!
So, Does Breaking Bad Habits and Creating New Ones Work For Me?
To me, creating new habits instead of trying to break bad habits was an absolute eye-opener which I just had to share with you.
I still struggle with my new behaviour patterns, but some (not too many, admittedly) of them are truly cemented in those ancient parts of my brain now. They no longer cause me any trouble. Like the 2x 30 sit-ups a day. Ot the sweetened tea instead of the wine at most nights. They were easy to implement into my daily life routine and always make me feel like I have done something good for myself.
Other new habits are, let’s say, still more susceptible to interference. Like trying out new recipes, making the children at least try the new taste. And then avoid getting mad when they scream for spaghetti and tomato sauce. Thinking about it – I don’t get THIS mad anymore! Probably the main reason is that I stopped cooking anything that involves a lot of work or special ingredients. I keep it simple. Don’t know if that’s really such a good thing on the long run, since I once put my heart to cooking and baking. Also the children do try new food more often (since they’re getting older, I guess). And finally, I really do turn around sometimes and tell myself to “take it easy”. My substitute for not shouting. Never would I have thought of myself as one of those laid-back, “non-impulsive” people!
There are good and not-so-good days, and that is totally fine for me. Because nobody is perfect, no method is perfect and I know, the creation of new habits takes a whole lot of will, strength and staying strong without ever giving up.
Today’s Last Recommendation
Do not lose your patience, because there is no easy way. This method is the right one, because it considers how our brain works and uses this knowledge. This enables us to make a lasting change instead of constantly (and ineffectively) trying to break bad habits. New habits will make your life healthier, more satisfied and fuller than ever before.
What are your bad habits? The ones you really want to get rid of? Or have you already managed to leave a bad habit behind? What is your personal way, how did you do it? Let us know in the comments!
Good luck – and you know: stay strong! But don’t forget to enjoy life over the whole thing! Take a glass of wine with your success!