What is a habit?
What is a habit? And how can you stop a bad habit? Knowing how to stop a bad habit can change everything when our habits become our day to day ‘normal’.
I define a bad habit as a repetitive act that is learnt over time often caused by stress. The bad habit then becomes the go-to act when we feel stressed and anxious. For example, we often spoke when we’re stressed.
The problem is, we then act these bad habits when we’re not even stressed or anxious because they are now acceptable to us.
I’ve written plenty about anxiety being a habit for instance. When we think about a situation we may be uncomfortable in, or that might make us stressed, we often become anxious and worried which goes over and over in our head.
Over time, these acts become normal, and ultimately, bad habits that we think we can’t change or that we know will be very hard to stop.
There is a simple process that happens when we develop bad habits as illustrated below. It’s a process that occurs silently and we often don’t notice that it’s taking place.
It’s called the cycle of habits;
To understand how to change a bad habit, you have to understand how your habits are formed in the first place. A common bad habit is smoking and so this will make for a perfect explanation to how bad and good habits are formed.
A bad habit is always born out of a stressful experience or time in our lives. If you’ve never smoked before, you might decide to try a cigarette one day to calm down.You know that it’s not good for you but you try it anyone because your friend says it helps them.
You think to yourself — “one won’t hurt I suppose.” So you decide to try the cigarette.
2. Coping Act
You enjoy the cigarette as it does what it was supposed to. You’re now much calmer an your muscles are relaxed. From this first experience with the cigarette, you now associate the smoking with ‘calmness’
You now tell yourself — “It calmed me down once, it can do it again”
This is now your go-to coping act.
The reward is the cigarette. You’ve had a hard morning so you have a cigarette on your break. You have a bad afternoon so you have a cigarette with your lunch. You have trouble sleeping so you have a few cigarettes in the evening before bed.
The reward of feeling calmer remains with you as you take each puff. It’s that same first hit of rewarding pleasure you first felt with your first ever cigarette.
A few weeks later and that ‘one off’ cigarette because a daily habit. You knew it was bad from the get go but it keeps serving your needs so you still use it as a crutch. By this point, it would be weird for you to stop smoking because you’re used to doing it throughout the day.
You never imagined yourself as a smoker before you started doing it but now you can’t imagine yourself not doing it. It has become a natural response to your stress and anxiety.
You Weren’t Always That Person Though Right?
The first and most important way to stop a bad habit is to remember this — you weren’t always this person. You weren’t always the ‘type of person’ to reach for a cigarette or binge eat in the evenings.
As people we are very good at put ourselves in boxes;
“I could never do that”
“I’m not the sort of person to stop”
“That’s just not me”
“I don’t have the will power”
“I could never do what he does”
Here’s the kicker –
Once you were the person who didn’t perform your coping habit. You developed it over time so you can certainly go back to before you started your habit.
If you don’t get a grip on your bad habits using this mindset, they can be dangerous. You can end up living a life of depression and anxiety, be ill, and die before your time. (sorry, not trying to scare ya! Just want to be honest!)
Alcoholics, drug addicts, binge eaters. The people who suffer with these habits were not born this way. These are all coping habits and acts that we teach ourselves to be rewards that will calm us down for a short period of time.
I often think back to when I didn’t feel like i had an anxiety disorder, although it was when I was very, very young, I am mindful of this fact. I wasn’t always anxious and so I know that I can go back to that time mentally.
Now we understand the mindset you need to be in, let’s look at how to change bad habits starting at point A.
1. Write It Down.
I’m a big advocate for writing things down. This is essential in my opinion. You have to be able to visualize what your thinking and what you want to change.
Start by writing down what your bad habits are. These could be anything, it doesn’t matter if you think they’re ‘small’ habits;
- biting your nails
- taping your feet
- checking your phone constantly
- picking your nose
Write down exactly what your bad habit is, and be honest with yourself. You might not always notice what your bad habits are so you can always ask a loved one what they notice you do.
2. What Triggers Your Bad Habits?
To get to understand ourselves we have to identify what triggers our bad habits. It’s usually stress or anxiety that causes us to go to our coping acts we previously developed.
Is it an event? a time of day? or is it something else?
All of this information you can pull out of your head is important because we’ll need it later on.
3. What Reward Are You Getting?
What reward or sensation do you get when you perform your habit? Do you feel more relaxed? Do you feel like you’ve performed a ritual? What are you getting out of the reward and how long does that feeling last?
Often our ‘rewards’ are short-lived which feeds into our need to performing our habits over and over, chasing that sensation or reward.
Write down any reward you’re getting from your habit act.
4. Are You Simply Bored?
We don’t always need to be stressed to develop bad habits, we can just be bored. Bored enough to smoke 5 cigarettes and check our phone all evening.
This could be a good sign that you need to do something more productive with your time and energy. Although still a hard habit to break, habits though boredom are easier to break than those brought on by stress and anxiety.
Write down all the bad habits you perform in pockets of time when you’re feeling bored.
How To Stop A Bad Habit By Replacing It With Good One
I believe there are such things as good habits. Although some may be obsessive, if they have a positive effect on mind and body or help another person, they’re positive.
A big part hurdle of stopping a bad habit is losing the ‘reward’ sensation if you stop. That’s why you have to know how to replace the act that gives you that sensation with something that will still give you it.
Smoking -> Exercise
If smoking gives you a feeling of satisfaction, exercise can give you that same sensation if not more.
Of course, it’s not as easy as saying to yourself ‘I’m just going to quit’. Instead, you need to find that replacement first. This could be anything.
Another example — If you check your phone in the evening, why not start learning to draw in that time? Learn to blog, or make something with your hands?
These activities will bring you the satisfaction you crave whilst leaving little time for your bad habit of checking your phone too much.
The cycle of habits can then begin because the cycle is not just reserved for bad habits.
Soon enough you then begin the healthy habit cycle. You perform the act, get the reward and then it becomes your routine.
Set Some Time Aside To Perform Your New Act
To begin a new healthy habit, you have to set some time aside. Setting the time aside to do your new act will make it more important to you, allowing you to take it seriously. Even if it’s doing a quick sketch in the evening for example.
Of course, you won’t always enjoy what you try but half the battle is trying new things until you find something that sticks.
Here’s how I changed the bad habit of checking social media all evening;
- Started this blog
- Read about blogging
- Reading and writing became a habit
- Satisfaction from these habits
The process is a simple one and can naturally develop over time. This can take some time but you can soon start to see yourself immersed in these new acts you’ve discovered leaving little time in the day for your old bad habits.
When yo know how to stop a bad habit you can start to change anything you want. The thing you thought could never be overcome seems smaller and like less of a hurdle. Having the right mindset towards your habits can show you that anything can change if you want it to enough.
I’d love to hear how you’ve overcome your bad habits in the comments.