When it comes to forming bad habits, I am a goddamn pro. Nail biter? Yep. Prone to putting stuff off until the very last minute? You betchya. Smoking cigarettes when under the influence and/or stressed? Me to a tee. Drinking in excess of one coffee a day? Guilty as charged. Losing hours of my life to Instagram? Yep. Indulging negative, reductive thought patterns? I think you may be able to guess the answer to that one.
There aren’t many negative habits out there that I haven’t entertained a casual dalliance with. But, as I edge closer and closer to my 27th year on this Earth, I’ve decided that it’s high time I right my wrongs.
My friend offered up some fairly sage advice on the subject recently after we got to talking about quitting cigarettes, and in particular how she’d managed to finally kick the habit for good. It went a little something like this: “I just thought about future me and what they’d want. They don’t smoke, so I don’t either.” This sentiment was echoed by my therapist recently, who recommended I start to make big decisions based on what the person I want to become would do.
Another friend posed habits as the following: stimulus > response > reward.
“In the case of cigarettes, you feel stressed of drunk > smoke a cigarette > nicotine hit. You can’t control the stimulus, but you can control the response. So maybe instead of responding by having a cigarette, you could do a few pushups,” he suggested (obviously half-joking with that little pushup call, but helpful nonetheless).
In the spirit of self-betterment, I scoured the internet for further advice on how to bid adieu to any lingering unfavourable habits. Here’s what I found…
1) Define your habits (and be specific)
In order to rid yourself of a bad habit for good, you need to define the concrete behaviour you want to change or develop. Instead of just saying you want to exercise more or eat less takeout, be more specific with the behaviours you’d like to change. For example, commit to doing half an hour of cardio five days a week, or limit your takeout to one night a week (and keep the pantry stocked with easy-to-make meals for the nights you work late and would be tempted to order in).
2) Identify the triggers
Being mindful of the cues behind your bad habits can be hugely influential in breaking them. Oftentimes, habit cues will fall into one of the following categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, an immediately preceding action. Every time you engage in the same bad habit, make a note of those five things. When you start to see similarities, you’ll learn what’s triggering the habit and you can start to work on fixing it.
3) Plan ahead
Breaking bad habits is all about replacing them with new habits. You need to have a plan ahead of time for how you will respond when you face the stress or boredom that prompts your bad habit. If you’re stressed and feel like reaching for a cigarette, practise breathing techniques instead. If you’re tempted to scroll through Instagram at work, complete one of the easier tasks on your to-do list. If you’re concerned that you’ll drink too much at an event, plan to get dinner with a friend or to go see a movie after, instead. Planning ahead means you won’t just give into the old behaviour.
4) Buddy up
If you’re wanting to do something like exercise more often, pair up with someone and do it together. You’ll be able to hold each other accountable and celebrate your victories together. Also, knowing that someone else expects you to be better is incredibly motivating.
5) Return to the old you
Oftentimes, we think that in order to break our bad habits we need to become a brand spanking new person. But, this isn’t the case—we already have it in us to be someone without our current bad habits. Instead of “quitting smoking”, try and return to being a non-smoker. If you’d like to be healthier, just look at it in terms of retuning to being healthy. You’ve been this person before, so there’s nothing stopping you returning. So often we think that to break our bad habits, we need to become an entirely new person. The truth is that you already have it in you to be someone without your bad habits. In fact, it’s very unlikely that you had these bad habits all of your life. You don’t need to quit smoking, you just need to return to being a non–smoker. You don’t need to transform into a healthy person, you just need to return to being healthy. Even if it was years ago, you have already lived without this bad habit, which means you can most definitely do it again.
6) Don’t ‘try’ to do anything
Oftentimes, we’ll tell ourselves that we’re going to ‘try’ and do something (like not order Uber Eats for the fourth time that week). But when you tell yourself you are going to ‘try’ rather than telling yourself you ‘will’, you are giving yourself a way out. Instead, commit to doing something, which will make it harder to let yourself off the hook.