Two Ways to Stop Bad Habits
The jig is up.
You’re not having it anymore.
You’re fed up of your brain being a little trickster and getting stuck in bad habits that you can’t seem to stop, and it’s time things changed.
Problem is, you’ve been WANTING to stop for ages (well, at least part of you has, anyway).
And now you realised you don’t know how.
Well, if you’re going to do this consciously, you’re going to have to put a bit of work in.
Because your habits are so ingrained in your mind and brain that every time you try and do something different, your old ways will be whispering ‘come baaaaaack! Come baaaack to us, it’s so eeeeaaasy!’
When you’re changing habits, the first thing you have to do is STOP the ones you’re already doing – ideally without that need to do the old thing creeping up.
Sure, you can make them good habits in the long run, but you have to stop the bad thing in the first place.
You can do that one of two ways: distraction or replacement.
You wake up. You realise the alarm hasn’t gone off – or you slept through. You swear loudly as you jump out of bed, because you’re going to be late for work. So much to do and NO TIME TO DO IT!
You throw some clothes on, run a toothbrush over your teeth, and grab your keys on the way out of the door, making a promise that you’ll get something for breakfast when you get closer to work.
Great – now you’re sat there, watching the minutes tick by, knowing that your boss is gonna be pissed. Now you’re pissed. Now you’re thinking about what your spouse did to piss you off last night, and you’re even more pissed.
But when you finally arrive at work, grovel to your boss (who thankfully is alright this morning) and get on with your work, which is a nice long to do list, what happens?
You just kind of… get on with it.
There’s so much to do that… actually, you’ve stopped dwelling on how much you panicked when your alarm went off this morning, because you just had other things to start focusing on.
You were too distracted.
Being distracted means your mind is forced, or encouraged, to focus on, or pay attention to, something else.
This is a seriously underrated technique for making bad things go away.
So how do you use it?
First: figure out what you want to stop doing. Then, understand that you need something that will suitably distract you in that moment of REALLY WANTING to do it – or even that autopilot moment where you’re not even thinking before you do it (more on that in a bit).
Want to stop pressing the snooze button on the alarm and just get up first time? Put the alarm clock across the room so you actually have to get out of bed to turn it off. Bingo. You’re up. That’s the hardest part done.
If you’re prone to ‘fridge investigating’ (i.e. opening the fridge door ‘to see what’s in there’ because you’re bored), put your damn to-do list in there so you see what you should be doing instead, or even a reminder of a hobby you keep saying you don’t have the time for.
My tried and tested favourite that stops me mindlessly scrolling on my phone is to move around where the apps are located on my phone, so I can’t just automatically open up Facebook, Reddit, or Instagram for some time-wasting. That extra second it takes to go ‘Oh, wait, it’s not there anymore. Why am I doing this anyway? I have stuff to get on with’ is enough to stop the autopilot in its tracks and change gears.
Usually when it feels like you just have to go through with an old habit, you’re either on auto pilot (i.e. not even consciously thinking about doing it) and distraction helps you break the pattern and choose a different thing…
you’re feeling something that causes the habit to start. (Boredom = emotional eating. Stressed = have a glass of wine. Annoyed = have a cigarette.)
Distraction takes you out of that feeling so the desire to ‘fix’ it with that action goes away.
Does it fix the feeling? No, you need something entirely different for that. But it fixes the bad habit you’ve created to try and deal with that feeling.
Other good distractions to use, which are all scientifically proven to help:
• Go for a walk
• Do a task from your to do list
• Read a book
• A short burst of activity (some jumping jacks or running on the spot)
• Text or call a friend
• Put some music on
Another option to stop a habit is by replacing it with something else.
Sometimes, stopping something cold turkey is hard. Replacing it with something eases the shock of that change, and it also helps your brain stay happy because it’s continuing something it’s used to doing.
The problem you have with conscious change is that your habit is already generated. Your brain has already set up neural pathways to do it automatically, and conscious change can be a real challenge. Your behaviours and habits are already ingrained.
(It’s also a myth that you can change a habit in 21 days, so there’s that too…)
Neuroplasticity (teaching your brain to create new pathways of thoughts and behaviours) is super cool – but why not use that process you’ve already created to change a bad habit into a good one?
The problem with habit replacement is that suggestions for things such as foods are usually like ‘Want to stop eating chocolate? Replace it with a rice cake!’ as if ANYONE finds that a suitable substitute. That’s a fast track to quitting.
Good replacements are something similar but better for you – e.g. a bit of mindful eating might mean you eat half of the chocolate bar instead of a whole one, or have an alternative that’s still satisfying like dark chocolate, or a low-alcohol, caffeine-free, or sugar-free version of something.
A good longer-term plan…
is to make your replacements in sections.
Want to have less sugar but don’t know how to drink coffee that you find too bitter without it?
Have a half or two thirds or three-quarters (however much is palatable) instead of your normal serving.
After a few weeks, even a couple of months, once you’re used to that, reduce it again.
Keep going until you’re used to the different taste and it doesn’t bother you anymore.
The term ‘acquired taste’ isn’t just a way of saying ‘Yes, that thing tastes like shit’. It’s an exposure technique that means the more you have something, the better it tastes over time.
So there you’ve got two new tools to help you stop an old habit that isn’t helping you.
Have you tried distraction or replacement techniques before?
Gimme your best ones, or tell me what you want to implement now you’ve read this.
Let me know by commenting below, or get in touch on social media.
Feeling like that’s way too much effort and want to change habits now? Find out more about NLP, the process that lets you change habits at a deeper level straight away.