If you noticed, the title of this article is not how to break a bad health habit. Instead, it’s about how to CHANGE a bad health habit, which is also known as habit replacement. Habit replacement is a much easier way to get rid of a bad habit rather than quitting a bad habit cold turkey.
Why Bad (or Good) Habits Are So Hard to Break
Thanks to Sigmund Freud and his development of the now-popular unconscious mind theory, it is believed our unconscious mind is what controls our habits.
The unconscious is the processes in the mind that we have no control over. They happen automatically.
A habit, by definition, is a routine behavior that occurs regularly and tends to occur unconsciously.
Habits go something like this:
Trigger (an event) ——> Habit (your action) —–> Reward
The good news is unconscious behaviors can be changed by our conscious mind, HOWEVER, we need to identify the trigger or what causes the habit to occur.
Once we do identify the trigger, it is not as simple as no longer performing the habit. Your brain is still wired to do something, so the best way to stop a bad habit is to replace it.
Replacement Habits to the Rescue!
- Identify the bad habit.
- Write the bad habit down.
- Write down a good habit you can have in its place.
Replacing Bad Health Habits with Good Health Habits
First, I want you to take a piece of paper and make a vertical line down the center to form two columns: left column and right column.
Label the top of the left column Bad Habits and the top of the right column Replace With.
Now in the left hand column, write down all of your bad health habits, one per line. In the right hand corresponding column write down an action you can do in its place. A simple example, Bad habit: cussing – Replace with: more socially acceptable words.
When you have your list finished, take a look at your bad habits and number the worst three. These should be the ones that are having the biggest negative impact on your health…like not exercising at least five times each week.
Focus on Correcting Bad Habits One to Three at A Time
If fixing bad habits were simple, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. Bad habit correction takes time and focus. I’ts not something that happens overnight, and it’s definitely not something that happens without conscious effort. You have to really want to change a bad habit to actually do it.
You might be looking at pretty lengthy list of bad habits by the end of your list making, but it is much better to take on one bad habit at a time, or if you’re feeling ambitious, up to three maximum – concentrate on fixing these one to three only. This way you will not become overwhelmed and fail.
Every time you find yourself in the action of the bad habit you are trying to correct, immediately do the replacement action you wrote down in the righthand column. It is even better if you can catch yourself in the trigger phase of the habit and just do the replacement action. Such as when you’re about to swear because you stubbed your toe. Think consciously before yelling out a swear word, and instead say, “shoot!” or “darn!”
It will take about 21 days to break yourself of a bad habit – sometimes, it can take even longer…like eight weeks. You will know when you have finally broken a bad habit, because you will not even think about it. It will be one of those, “Oh yeah, I used to do that” moments when the situation arises where you once would’ve reacted differently.
When you have broken a bad habit, move on to another from your list and so on. Once you start changing your bad habits, you may even notice other things you’d like to change in your life, such as your financial situation. We’ll save that for another article entirely though.
Human habits are a complex field, and numerous books have been written on the subject. While the approach I have given above is simple, it really does work. However, I encourage you to read more into the subject. After all, it is our daily habits and behaviors that form our lives and our futures.
Two books I highly recommend on the subject are:
The Power of Habit – an amazing book about how habits affect our entire lives and how to make your daily habits work for you not against you.
Changing for Good – this book not only focuses on habits, but also guides you through how to change major parts of your life step-by-step.