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How to Get Rid of a Bad Habit

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nerdegutt/ / CC BY 2.0

[hana-code-insert name='social w twitt face' /]“Bad habits are easier to abandon today than tomorrow.”
Yiddish Proverb

“Men's natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.”
Confucius

Most of us have one or a few habits that we consider bad and we’d like to get rid of. But how do you do it?

Today I'd like to share I have a few suggestions that have helped me and people around me greatly.

Here are 8 tips that can help you to finally get rid of that bad habit once and for all.

  • Tell your friends and family. If you tell people around you that you will stop smoking or start working out three times a week then they will check up on you. And you will feel a social pressure to keep up with your promise now that it is let out into the world. I would recommend only telling people who you think will support you or be neutral. Negative people make things so much more difficult.
  • Make it painful to not go through with it. This may not be for everyone but you could consider making a promise to someone. For example, if you stray off the path to better health by having French fries or a cigarette then you will give your friend 100 or 500 dollars. The point is to add some possible pain to keep yourself in check on days when you may feel a bit tempted.
  • Listen to those who have gone where you want to go. Not to people who have no practical or real idea about what your challenge entails. It is important to get the best advice that actually works in real life. Seek it out in people around you, in the best books on the topic (check for the number of stars and read reviews on a site like amazon.com) and on blogs and forums that seem reliable.
  • What will this lead to in 5 and 10 years? See your future self vividly in your mind. Where are you going? Towards massive debt, a heart attack, serious illness and severe restrictions in your future? Do you want go to that place where it is very likely that you will wind up if you don’t make a change? Then see your future self where you have made the positive change. What positive and awesome things has it brought you in 5 years and in 10 years? See it all in your mind. And remind yourself of the positive and negative consequences by writing them down and reviewing them whenever you feel like quitting and going back to your old ways.
  • Avoid temptations. Know what usually triggers your bad habit. Places where you are likely to spend too much money. Things in your cupboard that will not help you to get healthier and you should not have at home at all. And people that drag you down and back into your old ways.
  • Replace it. If you stop doing one thing then it can leave a vacuum in your life. It’s easier to not relapse if you replace that space with a new habit. If you had chips and candy at home to snack on then have fruits and nuts to snack on when you feel the cravings. If you stopped checking social media and the internet for many hours each evening then replace that habit and space with reading more books or joining a club, sport or evening class.
  • Don’t remove more than one habit at a time. It may seem like a good idea to overhaul your life all at once. When regular life, stress and lack of energy interfere it usually leads to failure. Don’t try to be Superman or Wonder Woman. Take it easy and change one habit at a time to dramatically increase the odds of real life success.
  • Don’t make a huge deal out of it. If you think about it and talk about it all the time then it will feel like a huge deal to get rid of that habit. This will make each day much harder mentally and you may feel overwhelmed. Instead, keep it simple and realize that whatever habit you want to get rid of thousands if not millions of people have done so before. Yes, things do get tough from time to time. But there is no need to create a lot of extra drama around it and in the longer run make things more difficult than they need to be.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with someone else on Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon. Thank you very much! =)

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • This is the perennial battle, isn’t it? Great job, Henrik! The point to life is to keep growing, keep adding new good habits to our catalogue of traits, talents and abilities. Half that battle is getting rid of habits picked up along the way that don’t serve us well.

    What I have found helped me overcome habits over the years is to stay busy, especially in the early phases of stomping out a self-defeating repeat-offender. Also, it is in the quiet times when no one is around that a craving or self-defeating thought starts to feel overwhelming. So get out around people too. But your point about avoiding temptations is important too when considering who to be around. If smoking is the problem, hanging out with your smoking buddies will not work.

    Here’s a variation on your great idea about making it painful to slip: Give the money up front to a third party for some specified length of time with instructions to send it to a charity associated with your habit if you fall off the wagon. This way, there is no escape clause lingering in the back of your mind saying, “Well, if I do slip, I just won’t pay.”

    Important post, Henrik! Keep up the awesome work you do here!

  • When I read this I think about eliminating distraction and increasing productivity. People are robbed of their productivity and time because of their usual bad habits they’re created for themselves. In a way they work synergetically.

  • These are great suggestions. Hopefully, they will help especially those out there that want to quit smoking, drugs, drinking and other vices that could be damaging to their health. Must be so difficult with such habits to break if they spent years with these and somehow they have been engrained into their systems.

  • I personally think replacing it is the most important part. Without replacing the bad habit you keep going back.

    I also find when you replace the bad habit with something constructive (drawing, building websites, fitness,…) You can channel the desire for the bad habit to the constructive activity and get a lot more done.

    Nice article!

  • It’s been about two years since I’ve been on your blog, but I am email subscribed as it so happens,. and so I keep up that way.

    I agree about not thinking about a task being hard — it ruins so many chance at things “being” period.

    Please stop by my blog when you have a chance: http://wheelchairphilosopher.blogspot.com

    Kind regards,

    Michael LaPenna
    http://thumbtack.com/michaellapenna

  • Excellent advices. I find particularly important to remove anything that triggers the undesired behavior. Taking it to the extreme, I once heard of a heroin addict who went abroad and spontaneously quit the habit for a whole year… then he went back home, he met his old friends and… bang.

    Regarding the second point, ‘make it painful to not go through with it’, what you propose is a punishment system (bad behavior=something bad happens to you). My personal preference is for reward systems, good behavior=you get something good. How about the guy rewarding himself with $5 every day he stays away from french fries/cigarettes?

    Anyway thanks for the read

  • I usually use the fourth tip and I would add further that, it’s on the same principle of asking what will happen if i won’t do it when you try something new(taking new risks) that’s the way to push things from just an idea to make it done.

  • Excellent writing Henrik. I appreciated this article much. This one is so helpful. I have bookmarked this site.

  • I love number one. By telling someone about what your doing, they keep you in line, prevent you from fumbling the ball of life and achievement. Its a great way to keep your self on track, because the last thing you want to do is disappoint someone else. So telling someone that your doing something you want to achieve, can give you the motivation you NEED to get things DONE!

  • Henrik

    Thank you for thi article. The waste of time and being not productive is oen of the worst habit I have. And I can assuure you it was not always like that.

    With regards to make it painful, you need to be choos ethe person or friend you will give teh money carefully. I tried this with a couple of friends and then they tell me I cannot take your money. SO they need to be really commited to help you.

    Great article.
    Thank you
    A Happier Self

  • If you use them all together that will get the best results.

    Only the second tip would not help me.

    I like The “Replace it” tip the most. It reminds me of the powerful NLP technique ‘the SWISH’ which you can use to replace things IN YOUR MIND. So you can first replace the image of chips and candy with fruit and nuts IN YOUR MIND using SWISH. After that you can replace chips and candy in the real world without any effort. It is easy to do and very very very powerful.

    Thanks for sharing your tips!

  • The biggest ones to me are:
    – avoid temptations
    – replace it (when I saw the title of your post, I thought, if he doesn’t put this one down, he’s getting flamed, haha)

    The social repercussions and Tony Robbins-isms don’t work so well for me. Replacing it (e.g. drinking tea rather than coffee) and avoiding temptations (e.g. don’t have candy at home or at work and you probably will never eat it) seem the best.

    Have you read the book Switch: How to change things when change is hard?

  • I totally agree with the point about not getting rid of multiple habits at one time. The mind is not designed to handle many things all at once..I have tried to stop procrastination, washing dishes, and doing laundry often all together and it was stressful because I couldn’t get it done…Then I didn’t get anything done at all.

    We are conditioned from childhood to act a certain way based on our up bringing so we develop certain habits that are wired in us…If we try to solve all bad habits at once, it is like moving from carrying 20 pound weights to 70 pound weights at the gym

    The point you made about telling everyone about your habits….Don’t you think that it makes sense not to announce your goals because often times people will announce their goals to feel great about themselves but never take action?

  • Geraldine

    Excellent advice Henrik as usual. I think it’s a good idea to make your intentions public, just as it is when you have a goal to accomplish. sometimes that knowledge is what keeps us moving towards our goals whatever that may be at the time.

    I have a “happiness is…” contest on at my blog for July:

    http://www.takeahappybreak.com/2011/07/happiness-is-contest.html

    Hope that your readers will stop by to enter. Lots of fun and prizes!

  • I agree with Social Natural’s comment. Eliminating distraction can help so many people overcome procrastination. Healthy habits, like taking breaks, can replace those that take us away from being more productive.