How to break a bad habit

Two chess pieces, a white and black Queen, which symbolise good and bad habits. The black Queen stands over the white Queen, which has fallen at her feet. The Queen is the most powerful piece in the game of chess, symbolising the power of habits and how hard it is to break a bad habit.
Don’t be defeated by a bad habit

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage…to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.” Dr Stephen Covey

Good and bad habits

To break a bad habit you need to refocus on something that is a higher priority for you. Everyone has good and bad habits, right? We have hundreds of habits that we perform routinely each day. This is a helpful skill when you have routine tasks that need to be completed easily. The automatic nature of a habit allows you to give your attention to other more important things that are higher priorities. But what happens when some habits take over your life and you become dominated by them? Knowing how to break a bad habit is a skill you need.

So, how do you know whether your habits are good or bad? Some habits are good in some contexts but bad in others. Like sleeping in when you need a rest, but not because you’re avoiding doing something. Some habits are bad for your health, like over-eating, drinking too much alcohol, or not exercising. What is your measure of whether a habit is good or bad? Society, culture, your peers, family or relationships, or yourself? Habits deemed bad in some cultures may be normal in others. Spitting, for example. The habit of exercising may be a regular routine in some families, but not in others.

One habit that many people have a problem with is the habit of procrastination. It may not have a big impact on society, but imagine if everyone procrastinated all of the time. Imagine if everyone in your family had that habit. If you find yourself procrastinating, how does it help you and how does it limit you?

If you have a habit of avoiding conflict you may have learnt that habit as a way of being safe as a child in your family home. A good habit to have in some situations, but other situations may require skills to manage the conflict. Or have the skills to de-escalate it. If your childhood habit is carried into adulthood, it may mean that you don’t feel comfortable or entitled to state what you want or need. This can severely limit your relationships and personal growth.

So, habits need to be periodically assessed, culled and refined so that you have an optimal set of habits to work with, and that work for you. If you don’t have flexibility of choice over the things you do, then it may be said that the habit has you, rather than the other way around!

If you said ‘no’ to that bad habit, what would it make room for? What will you say ‘yes’ to that has greater meaning for you? How can you prioritise that and make it a habit?

Would you like to know how to break a bad habit?

    1. Firstly, assess the habit. All habits exist because they provide a benefit. What are the benefits of your bad habit? What are the negatives? Does the habit have negative consequences for you or for others? Does it prevent you from doing something you would prefer to be doing, or limit some aspect of your life? How did you learn that habit? Did others practise it around you or did you develop it as a response to others’ behaviour?
    2. Map out the habit process. Slow down the process so you can graph or draw it. When do you start doing the habit? What feelings do you have when you’re engaged in that habit? What happens next? How do you know when to finish doing the habit? What feelings do you have after you’ve finished that habit. Any observations about the overall process?
    3. Get flexible and creative with the habit. What would happen if you varied the process in some way? If you did the habit in a different place, or at a different time of day, or started at a different point in the process? Does it give you more flexibility with that habit?
    4. Apply a new habit. What are some alternative ways of meeting your needs? What need did the bad habit originally satisfy? Are there other healthier ways to satisfy that need? The habits of eating chocolate, watching TV or playing video games are often motivated by the need for comfort or relaxation, to chill out and relax. What comforting, relaxing things could you do instead or what could you add to your routine so you have some variety? If you do those things regularly enough, they will become a habit, a good habit.

The good news is that you can break a bad habit by developing some flexibility in it. It has been found that strongly trying to resist a bad habit only makes it stronger. Instead, being curious about the habit gives it less power, and gives you more choice over your behaviours. Decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage to say ‘no’ to other things.

Contact Linda Magson, Sydney Life coach, for help to break a bad habit.

Links to other articles by Linda Magson that may help

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