You can’t create successful behaviors and move forward in life without breaking habits – the bad ones that are so ingrained in you that they make you live in a comfort zone.
We should first get rid of the obstacles – in this case, the bad habits – before we move onto building better ones.
It’s not an easy task, but it’s absolutely possible and becomes simple once you understand how habits work.
The thing is, you can’t really do anything about that if you don’t know how habits are formed and broken. There are psychology and science behind all that and it’s a process that happens on the inside before the results can be seen in reality.
In this post, I’ll try to break it down into simple steps, by first explaining what habits are all about, what makes them crucial (and even much more important than goals), and how habit forming and breaking really works.
I won’t cover any information you don’t need. I’m all about sticking to the essentials and getting to action as soon as possible. I’ll give just enough information so that any newbie can understand the power of habit and do something about breaking habits today.
Everything you read in this post is covered in details in my latest book How to Break Any Bad Habit
Why Habits Matter?
Habits are the basis of your success.
They are what we repeatedly do. We already have many of them, and if we don’t realize that, then they’re mostly bad ones we do on autopilot.
If we lack success, that’s the reason.
Taking control of your habits is the only way to take control of your life.
Self-control is a great skill to master but few have succeeded in that.
There is, however, a simpler way to take back control of your behavior, time, health, and everything else that you can control. That can happen by changing your habits.
One good habit leads to other positive changes in your life.
There are some keystone habits that are so great and worth developing, that they go together with other smaller but still powerful habits which don’t require any effort.
Related: The Power of Keystone Habits
Every successful person you’ve ever heard of has done something about his habits.
It starts with the realization that you need to make permanent changes in your behavior. Then comes the self-analysis and seeing what’s wrong, doing your research and deciding where to start.
Once you choose your first habit and make a plan, there you go. You do your best to dedicate time to it daily, even if it’s 30 seconds. That applies to both breaking habits and building new ones.
Habits vs. Goals
From what I’ve seen in terms of changing a behavior and reaching goals in life, habits make sense, goals don’t.
Maybe we’re just not made for the whole goal-setting process. Everyone talks about it, some achieve it, but maybe even in their cases it’s all about developing the right habits and letting them do the rest.
Goals still matter. I work with them well after years of mistakes and disappointment, but I’m all about the power of habits. If you feel stuck, don’t know where to start or aren’t good with the whole goal thing, you too should turn to them. It’s priceless.
If you think about it, our whole life consists of habits. Every single action is something we’ve done in the past or will do in the future (there are exceptions, of course, but that’s not the point here).
How Habit Forming and Breaking Work?
Habit forming is the process of starting a new behavior (hopefully on purpose) and sticking to it long enough so that we soon do it on autopilot, and can move onto developing the next successful habit on our list.
Breaking habits is the act of being mindful of a behavior we’re trying to avoid, of staying alert and noticing what triggers it and doing anything possible not to fall back into the old habit.
Understanding the cues and rewards of habits.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is one of the best books in the niche.
He describes the habit forming and habit changing process like no one else does, and thus makes things easier to implement for the average person.
The main theory of the book is about the habit loop. According to it, there’s a neurological loop at the core of every habit and it’s quite simple.
It consists of 3 elements – a cue, a routine and a reward. Understanding each is crucial if we want to hack the process:
- cue – what triggers the behavior;
- routine – the behavior itself;
- reward – what you get after doing the habit (usually instant gratification or other emotional sense of comfort when talking about bad habits).
Breaking Habits: The Process
1. Define the bad habit you’ll try to break.
2. Focus on just starting and start super small.
Like everyone else, I’ve also been trying to change my habits for years, and have often failed.
I tried to change my diet and start eating clean from day one, I wanted to be able to write every day, to go to the gym 5 times a week, learn a foreign language in a short time, and so on. And none of these attempts were successful.
Soon I realized where my mistake was – I always tried to make big changes.
How to start small?
Simply make it so easy that you won’t be able to say no.
Want to start eating healthier? Do it by adding just one fruit or vegetable to your menu.
To stop going to bed so late? Avoid using any devices an hour before bedtime, then move your dinner to an earlier hour and make it lighter.
What about quitting smoking? Let’s smoke 1 cigarette less a day.
Or letting go of negative thinking? Start by substituting one negative thought a day with a positive one.
No one said it should be difficult, with a lot of effort and sweat.
Yes, it will take time and persistence, but building and breaking habits can be easy and simple at the same time.
3. Choose incremental change.
That’s an important thing to keep in mind.
Often people underestimate small changes, steps, achievements or else, just because of their size. But when combined, they transform our whole life in the long-term.
Avoiding sweets just for this one meal may not seem like a big thing to you. But do it many times, and you can lose weight and fix your eating habits without even realizing.
4. Rely on short-term motivation.
I’ve recently realized that long-term vision is much needed to have a direction in life, but it’s short-term motivation that will keep us going.
We basically need to constantly trick our minds into going after a certain change in life, so that we can ignore the distractions on the way and get closer to it slowly, but steadily.
That’s not a bad thing, of course. But it’s important to know it so that we can see results.
So how do we stay motivated in the short-term when breaking habits? Well, it’s easier than looking at the big picture.
- stay present;
- listen to music;
- learn new skills;
- focus on what you have;
- do things more slowly to find joy;
- read inspirational quotes;
- surround yourself with like-minded people;
and so on.
5. Daily commitment.
The only ones that get what they want are those who get up every day and commit to the changes they want to make. Even if it’s one action, or 1 hour of concentrated work, or saying no to one thing they’re trying to avoid.
It’s consistency that creates results.
During the journey you grow and learn, build character and become stronger. In time, it gets much easier. In fact, you soon start doing it on autopilot, see improvement and your dream lifestyle starts to look more real.
That’s your motivation to keep going. Because no matter what, you need to move forward.
No matter how many other things you need to get done, how bad you feel, or how many unpredicted things come up, you need to commit to changing your habits and take your daily step.
6. Change your environment.
Here are 2 more specific ways to improve your environment so that you can break bad habits:
- Don’t communicate often with people who have a bad influence on you and with whom you connect the bad habit.
A person who’s overcome drug addiction, for instance, should never spend time with his old friends who are still using. No doubt about that.
But that applies to simpler and more common situations in daily life too. If you’ve finally become more confident, you shouldn’t go back to the environment or people who make you feel inferior and doubt your abilities.
- Make it a priority.
Some of the things you do daily, whether you’ve turned them into successful habits or not, are more important than others. Maybe they help you make a living, or bring you happiness and a sense of control, or give you instant gratification.
Whatever that is, you need to keep doing them no matter what. The best way is to put them on the top of your to-do list.
Related: How to be Ruthless with Your Habits
7. Preventing failure.
- Plan in advance.
Preparation is key if you’re aiming for at least 70-80% success rate (perfection isn’t a realistic target when it comes to kicking bad habits).
- Have a fixed time for everything.
That makes life so much easier and more organized. Your performance increases and you just don’t need to think about time anymore, as everything will have a set hour throughout the day and you’ll just follow the plan.
8. Tracking progress.
I remember that the more I was reading about successful people’s daily routines, habits and little tips on how to be more productive, the more I was noticing a tendency there.
They were all measuring their results one way or another.
Then, I started making more detailed descriptions of different stuff I was doing daily. The written word is more powerful indeed. And knowing how much time something took you and the chance to compare it to the previous and the next few times you do it is priceless.
Nothing can give you such great feedback about your performance. As a result, you can decide what changes you want to make in order to see an improvement. And then track that too.
So add that to your decision to break the bad habit. Use an app, have a separate notebook, or just open a new Word document and start writing something daily connected to what you do or don’t do about the habit.
Include how you feel about it all the time. Also, other unusual things you do during that day, as each may affect how you perform or how much willpower you’ve got left to use for the habit.
Breaking habits is a process that can help us be free from the prison of the old behaviors and the comfort zone we’re used to, and finally getting the chance to build better, successful habits instead.
If you can’t really achieve anything big in your life, don’t see any transformations in your behavior and mindset, and don’t seem to be getting closer to your goals, then let me tell you a little about the pillar of personal growth.
It’s all about habits.
Breaking bad habits, replacing them with good ones, learning how to make them stick, and gradually turning the things you do daily into something productive, positive, healthy and successful.
This can be considered the secret success formula you’ve been looking for. But that doesn’t mean it offers a shortcut. No. Habits are hard to be built, and old ones are even harder to be changed. But it’s a process that can be learned. Once you do it right, you’ll just replicate it every next new behavior you’re trying to develop.
My latest book can help you with that. Check out How to Break Bad Habits.