Want to Change Your Bad Habits? Do These 2 Things
Bad habits derail your goals and waste your time. Stop their hold on your life with these two strategies to resist old patterns when temptation strikes.
Everyone has a few more vices than they care to admit. It is hard to stop a bad habit, especially if your brain craves the dopamine fix the habit gives you. Here are a couple of tried-and-true strategies you probably haven’t used before that can make it easier to change your ways.
Find Good Substitutes for a Bad Habit
We usually think of a habit we’d like to change only in negative terms, as the thing we want to stop doing. We say, “I won’t eat when I’m bored” or “I am going to stop watching TV on weekdays.” That seems good, but when the urge to eat or watch TV strikes, what are you going to do instead?
Attempting to get rid of a habit with nothing to take its place is harder than finding a substitute habit to replace it. I ate snacks to keep myself occupied and get a dopamine hit, not because I was hungry. Thinking about what else I could do when I needed some entertainment and energy, I decided to walk around the block before snacking. Most of the time, I didn’t want the snack when I got back from the walk, which proved that I wasn’t really hungry in the first place.
Because of memory challenges, I needed a reminder to capture my attention before the old habit took over. I wrote “Did you go for a walk?” on lime-green paper, and stuck the note on the fridge, next to my computer, and on the wall I see as I walk into the kitchen.
I was amazed at how effective this strategy was. Later, when I realized that I didn’t notice the reminders anymore, I wrote the same words on pink paper and changed the notes’ locations slightly. This change made me pay attention to it, and it boosted my resolve.
Make a list of things you’d substitute for a bad habit and place it where you might lapse—near the TV or fridge, say. When you’re bored or feel an itch to go back to your old ways, you’ll be reminded of activities to substitute for your bad habit. Perhaps you’d prefer to stretch, meditate, read a book, or draw instead.
Invent Obstacles to Stop Bad Habits
Obstacles, by definition, make it more difficult to complete a task. If you’re trying to change your ways, making it hard to slide back into old ways is exactly what you want. So invent some annoying obstacles to put in your path.
Have you ever thought of unplugging the TV if you are addicted to watching it? What about putting your car keys inside your gym bag, so that you’re forced to put the bag in your hand before you leave the house? Or disabling one-click purchasing on Amazon? How about duct-taping your computer shut at bedtime?
Maybe I went too far with the last one, but you get the idea. Now get some duct tape and change those habits.
5 Ways to Short-Circuit a Bad Habit
- Keeping all electronics chargers downstairs, so that I don’t take my phone with me to bed.
- Taping my gym fob to my headphones, so that I always have headphones when I go to the gym.
- Never buying junky foods at the grocery store or keeping them in the house. I have to make a special trip if I want them.
- Putting the thing that I want to take with me on top of my shoes. I put the thing in my lap while I get my shoes on, and I have to pick it up again when I’m ready to go.
- Never storing my credit card information on shopping websites.