“Good habits are hard to develop but easy to live with” and “Bad habits are easy to develop but hard to live with”, according to Brian Tracey, a well-known motivational teacher. You may recognize that to successfully manage habit changes, breaking bad habits may be required in order to develop new ones.
Breaking bad habits takes at least 21 days. Of course, in difficult cases, it can take as long as a year. Here’s an example of the process of how to change an unhealthy habit to a healthy habit. Suppose you’ve decided that coffee is not good for you and right now, you drink coffee with sugar daily. The new habit you would like to institute is to drink herbal tea without sugar.
At first, it may be challenging to break the bad habit of drinking coffee. You will have to use self-discipline for the first few weeks but gradually it will get easier. Once you are able to change the old habit to a new healthier one, it will serve you very well. Habits are remarkable because they don’t require thinking. You just “do it” for years until you find yourself changing the habit again.
Here are 5 easy steps for changing habits:
1. Awareness: You must become aware of your habits. What is this habit exactly? How is this bad habit or group of bad habits affecting you? How is this habit affecting others? For example, smoking often has negative effects on others as well as on you.
2. Wanting to Change: As someone with a health problem, you must decide that breaking bad habits through a conscious effort is a worthy goal. You must convince yourself that the change in the habit is worth the effort involved.
3. Commitment: You must be determined to do whatever it takes for breaking bad habits so that you can better control your life. You make a decision that “no matter what” you will change the habit. You do the work required to stop. Here are some examples of habits you might want to change: Smoking, eating too much, eating processed foods, not exercising, drinking coffee or other beverages with caffeine in them, eating too much sugar or fat, drinking alcohol, procrastinating, etc.
4. Consistent Action: It is important to focus on changing just one habit at a time. Then, take consistent daily actions for breaking the bad habit that has been causing problems and take the actions to develop a new one. We suggest doing this process one step at a time rather than trying to do it all at once. Sometimes changing a habit can be done “cold turkey” like smoking and sometimes it works better to make a gradual change.
Be sure to give yourself positive rewards often for taking small actions toward changing a bad habit. Continual day-by-day actions are what are critical. This is NOT about an occasional action or step. It is about being consistent every day.
5. Perseverance: There will be times when you question whether it is all worth it. You’ll say to yourself that breaking these bad habits is too difficult; that you are too “weak” to change. Your old self, often so comfortable living with the bad habits, is trying to hold on. Breaking your old patterns may require meditation and prayer.
Visualize regularly the rewards for following through and the costs of not following through on breaking the bad habits and especially the value to your future of building new better habits.
Get support from others, especially other people who want to make changes in their lives and read about people who have been successful in breaking bad habits. Affirm that, no matter what, you will not backslide into your old bad habit patterns.
Now, you are armed with a 5-step process for breaking any bad habit or other condition that requires changing. If you have an addiction to something such as alcohol, these steps alone may not be enough. You may require additional professional help or a support group, but for most cases this 5-step process will do the trick!