The most common bad habits are procrastination, smoking, nail biting, oversleeping, and eating too many unhealthy foods. As an NLP practitioner and hypnotherapist, I’ve helped hundreds of people get rid of all of these bad habits, and more.
I began by getting rid of unhealthy habits of my own, like smoking and drinking too much alcohol. Over the years, I’ve had to deal with procrastination several times as well.
How about you?
Have you ever wanted to give up an enjoyable habit like smoking or overeating? Have you ever wanted to break a bad habit like putting things off, playing video games, or looking at social media for hours at a time, or your favorite candy?
Of course, you have.
We all have.
We form habits like these because we’re human. And as we all know, it can be extremely difficult to drop an unwanted habit. But there are things you can do that will help you get rid of unhelpful habits.
For years I’ve studied habits as a professor of psychology as well as a hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner. Today I want to share with you some of what I’ve learned and some tips that will help you get rid of those habits that aren’t helping you.
The Science of Habit Formation
The brain’s remarkable capacity to adapt and evolve based on experience and knowledge is known as neuroplasticity. Neuroscientists tell us neuroplasticity is the phenomenon that allows us to form habits.
Habits are formed through a process called reinforcement learning which is the repetition of a behavior or action. When triggered, this process strengthens neural pathways in the brain.
When you do something that results in a desirable result, like finding a delicious snack or receiving the admiration of an attractive person, dopamine flows freely inside your brain. These neurotransmitters activate a sense of gratification or pleasure. Your mind then links the behavior you did right before to these positive feelings.
Over time, the neural paths that are responsible for your dopamine rush become increasingly active, strengthening the new connections. Due to this reinforcement, these habits become more automatic. Now they require less conscious thought and effort on your part to execute.
This is why trying to break a bad habit can be so complicated. These behaviors have created deep chemical pathways in your brain that link pleasure with the behavior.
It is noteworthy that habits can be formed both intentionally and unintentionally. Knowing how habits form will help you break bad habits and replace them with good ones.
This is what we’re going to do now.
10 Steps for Stopping Bad Habits
Now that you know how habits are formed, let’s look at a process that will help you lose the old habit and build new habits.
1. Focus on one bad habit at a time.
It can take a great deal of self-discipline to get rid of a negative habit. As author Heidi Grant Halverson explains in “Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals”, our capacity to sustain willpower is not infinite.
Therefore, attempting to break several habits simultaneously is not practical.
Keep in mind that while it might feel frustrating to only gradually drop these habits, getting rid of five negative behaviors in a year will make you feel great.
Remember to be patient as you’re trying to break your habit. While some experts say it takes 21 days to break a habit, it often takes more.
I suggest giving yourself at least 30 days to focus on trying to break the habit. If it’s really hard to break, give yourself 60 or 90 days.
Commit to doing whatever it takes.
2. Go for progress, not perfection.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that perfection is the enemy of the good. This is especially true when it comes to breaking habits.
Instead of striving for perfection, set realistic goals.
Let’s say you want to stop overeating so you can lose some weight. Instead of aiming to lose 30 pounds, set a goal of reducing your weight by a half pound per week.
This gives you meaningful progress that you can continue to maintain until you reach your desired weight.
Remember to track your results daily and celebrate your progress.
Regular improvement over time is all you need to overcome your habit.
3. Understand what triggers you.
According to science, a trigger is a stimulus or event that causes you to experience a sudden and intense emotional or psychological reaction. These can sometimes be related to past traumas or negative experiences.
Here’s some factors to keep in mind when thinking about what sets off your habit in the first place.
What’s the location?
Where did this trigger happen? Are you in your car? On your couch? Sitting at your desk?
Are you at your friend’s house? At a bar?
Where are you when the habit you want to change kicks in?
When did this happen?
What’s the time of day? What day of the week is it?
If you’re eating junk food, you might find that your trigger times are late at night while watching TV.
Maybe if you’re trying to break the habit of smoking, you find the biggest urge is right after lunch. Take the time to understand when you’re likely to slip.
With whom does the automatic behaviors happen with?
Other people can be a powerful motivator.
Habits like drinking, smoking, and drug use often occur in the presence of people that you associate these behaviors with. Become more aware of the people you’re with and determine if you’re likely to do the habit alone or with these certain people.
Also think about your current activity.
What are you usually doing when your habit strikes? Maybe you find you can’t resist eating junk food while watching TV late at night. Perhaps you find yourself biting your nails when you’re working on an important project in your office.
Put all this information in your journal. This will help you identify where, when and with whom your triggers come up.
4. Figure out how you can interrupt or avoid the cues that generate your habits.
Once you’ve identified your triggers, if you can avoid provoking your behavior in the first place, you’ve won the game.
While this isn’t always possible, often, you can make giant leaps in your battle against bad habits by using this simple step.
For example, if you find you eat a big bowl of buttery popcorn whenever you stream a certain television program, then stop watching the program or stop buying popcorn.
You can also interrupt this habit by brushing your teeth. Now that your mouth feels fresh and clean, the thought of eating popcorn is much less inviting.
If you only drink to excess with Bob, don’t spend time with Bob.
If you only smoke while drinking with Bob in bars, stay away from Bob and bars.
If walking by your favorite taco shop on your way home from work prompts you to purchase a fatty dinner, avoid walking by the taco shop.
5. When you feel your cue activating, stop!
Literally freeze. Don’t make another move.
When you first feel the urge to smoke, overeat, or plop yourself in front of the TV, just stop.
You’re going to sit, breathe, and relax your body. which is a mindfulness technique you can find in my book Modern Mindfulness.
Sitting still for a moment helps calm your mind. It also is a way to break your state.
Stop and breathe deeply. You’re interrupting your behavioral pattern. This helps you create the mental space you need to choose a different course of action.
6. What’s your reward?
The article, Get Into a Better Groove: Creating Lasting Positive Habits, points out habits continue because you get a reward. Negative behaviors often are a result of your mind trying to sooth negative feelings or attempting to turn them into positive ones.
For instance, you overspend when you’re feeling lonely. You smoke because you think cigarettes make you feel good and relieve stress.
Your behavior is being driven by your negative feelings.
Here’s what you need to do.
Examine your negative habits. Figure out what you get from them. You’ll find there is a reward for every one of your bad habits.
You’ll probably find the reward isn’t worth it.
7. Replace your bad habit with a new, positive one.
As you’ve learned, every behavior has a reason behind it. That’s your reward. To break your bad habit, you’ll need to find another behavior that gives you a similar reward.
It may take some trial and error to find a behavior that works for you. You’re looking for something that will create a positive feeling for you. A behavior that won’t cause you harm.
For example, you have the urge to smoke. Go for a walk.
You have the urge to eat a candy bar. Grab an apple or some nuts.
You want to check out your social media. Read or listen to a book or podcast for 15 minutes.
Find some positive, or at least neutral, behaviors that you can use to break your habit.
8. Find a punishment for indulging in the bad habit.
Imagine if every time you grabbed for an unhealthy snack, a 25-pound kettlebell would smash down on your foot. I guarantee that unhealthy eating would be much less appealing!
While it isn’t practical to smash your foot with a kettlebell, there are several websites and apps that can provide you with similar psychological pain.
Two are StickK.com and Beeminder.com. There are many others.
These websites all work on the same premise. You pledge to give money to a cause or charity you don’t align with if you revert to your negative habit. You can also use it if you fail to work on a new habit.
You can use these apps to track diet, exercise, and other behaviors you’re working on. If you mess up, you lose money and to something you don’t like.
While you can choose an organization that you love, but when it’s one you despise, it’s especially painful and reinforcing. It can feel as painful as that kettlebell on your foot!
The service keeps a small percentage as a transaction fee when you make a payment.
Of course, you can do something similar yourself or with a friend. You could promise yourself that you’ll send money to an organization you don’t support. When you mess up you send it to the organization or let your friend know and they do it for you.
You could post an embarrassing photo of yourself on Facebook. Putting a rubber band around your wrist and snapping it if you smoke is a great reminder if you’re trying to quit smoking.
What you want to do is give yourself a real consequence for not following through!
9. Practice self-care.
As mentioned before, we have a limited amount of self-control. But you can elevate your self-discipline when you are well-rested, well-nourished, and exercise moderately. Make it a point to get enough sleep and eat well. These will also help you keep your energy and mood high.
An added benefit is a little exercise will help to burn off any negative energy you’re carrying around with you.
10. Be persistent.
If you want to achieve anything you have to keep going for it. This is the most important key for achieving any goal.
You’re going to have good days and bad. Be okay with that.
Simply keep at it. Be happy with even a little progress.
Make your mantra, I can do this!”
Kick Your Bad Habits to the Curb!
Breaking bad habits can often be a difficult process, but one that is necessary to achieve success. While it may be hard to get rid of the bad and replace it with good, you can use these helpful tips to overcome any roadblocks along the way.
With the right mindset and determination, you can break your bad habits.
Looking to unlock the secrets of success? Look no further than The Secrets of the Black Belt Mindset! This book will help you turn simple habits into extraordinary achievements, using the power of martial arts wisdom.
From discipline and focus to resilience and grit, you’ll learn the skills you need to succeed in any area of your life.
So don’t wait – order your copy of The Secrets of the Black Belt Mindset today!