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6 steps to breaking bad habits

6 steps to breaking bad habits

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the six simple steps to end bad habits and cultivate new empowering habits.

First a quick update:

Emotional Vampires – the interview”
Read the detailed interview I gave to the German psychology magazine PM offering more insights into the origins of and how to handle and deal with emotional vampires.

Now, let’s talk about ways to break bad habits.

At the beginning of each and every year, many people follow the custom to make New Year’s resolutions. And most of those resolutions involve ending or breaking bad habits.

The dictionary defines a habit as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” Few of us realize that most of our life and its behaviors are run involuntarily. In other words, for most of us, we run on autopilot and most of our behaviors are performed unconsciously. The way you hold a spoon, the way you tie your shoe laces and the way sit are all done at an unconscious level. Try holding the spoon differently or tying your shoe laces in a new way. How does that feel? Probably quite uncomfortable or simply weird or strange. And automatically, you will want to go back to doing it the old way. But that old way was once a new way, and your parents kept pushing you to do it a certain way, until one day you no longer thought about it and it became a program; it became a habit.

And so it is with all of our habits. We learn them and then we resist changing them because it feels uncomfortable to change.

The key to ending, breaking or stopping any habit is to use the same technique that you used to learn the habit in the first place. And no, I don’t mean you need to call up mom or dad to show you how to tie your shoe laces or to start a regular exercise program!

You might respond by saying that they taught you via nagging. And possibly that is true. But behind the nagging were three key strategies:

  1. Consistency
  2. Daily practice
  3. Vigilance

As an adult trying to change an old habit it requires more than what your parents did.

Here are the basic strategies required to end a bad habit and begin a new one. Notice that I said, “end a bad habit and begin a new one.” It is not enough to break a habit; you must replace it with a new empowering habit that fulfills a need.

1. Clarity

Get clear about one habit that you want to end and get clear about the new habit you want to cultivate or create. Write it down. Do not say “I don’t want to lay out on the coach every night.” Instead say, “I want to exercise/read/write/study/walk every night for X amount of time.” Again, I am referring to replacing the bad habit with a positive one and stating and defining it clearly. Remember, your new habit is also a new goal and every goal must be clearly stated. Your subconscious mind is like a missile – you must give it clear directions. Be simple and specific when setting and defining your new habit.

2. Consistency

In the Batman TV series, the narrator would often end cliffhanger shows by saying “Tune in tomorrow — same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!” Choose the one new habit you wish to create and stick to it; doing it the same way, same time every day. Remember, mom or dad consistently nagged you about the way you must tie your shoe laces or hold a spoon, etc. You have developed your bad habits the same way – consistently arriving at home and throwing up your feet on the coach and turning on the TV (or whatever it is for you.)

3. Longevity

Those bad habits have been with you probably for a long time and they will continue to live on unless, you practice the same new habit every day for thirty days – unceasingly. Have you noticed how many companies offer you a trial download of their software to use for thirty days before they charge you? Why? They know that at the end of the thirty days you will be used to, accustomed to using their product on a daily basis and you won’t be able to let go of it easily. The same applies to practicing a new good habit – do it for thirty days and it will be as hard to let go of as the bad habit was after you did that for 30 days!

4. Desire

Billy Field wrote a hit song in the 80s that David Lee Roth sang in 2003 – “Bad Habits”:

Well I’m off the rails
My resistance fails
Tempation’s got
A hold on me
And I can’t refuse
Because I always lose
Can’t help myself
Bad habits
When I get the urge
I just got to splurge
I’m a slave to all my desires
Well I’m in a mess
Because I can’t repress all of these
Bad habits

The “urge” for those bad habits and the “resistance” to change come from the desire to fulfill a specific need. In this way, we become a slave to our desires. In other words, the bad habit probably also fulfills a need that you have, even if you are not consciously aware of that need. For example, maybe you are laying out on the sofa watching TV because you need to relax and switch off. Maybe you are staying in and watching TV instead of going out and meeting new people because you have a fear of getting close or getting in a relationship. Identify the need behind the bad habit and find another way to fulfill it. If you watch TV to relax, find another way to relax or create a time limit. If you watch TV to escape the world out of fear, then deal with the fear first and then create the new habit.

5. Drive & Motivation

Ensure that the new habit will result in joy for you. To motivate yourself to begin the new habit and to stick to it for at least thirty days, you must focus on the rewards and benefits of the new habit, remind yourself of the pain that the old habit was causing you, and forget about the new habit being permanent because the latter may emotionally overwhelm you and stop you from even starting.

Find ways to make your new habit more enjoyable – if you detest being inside a gym, consider an outdoor event; if you detest doing it on your own, find a buddy or partner. Encourage yourself and dissolve negative and critical self-thought. For example, if you break the new habit after a few days and you think to yourself, “I am hopeless; I can’t even stick to a new habit”, change it to “I haven’t made the thirty days yet, but I already made 6 days.”

Ask a friend or colleague to support you in your new goal and habit by checking up on you or even giving them something of value that they will return to you only after you have conquered the new goal/habit.

6. Cue/trigger

In NLP and Hypnosis I set a trigger or cue that clients will use to kick start the action of the new habit. For example, the bad habit of sleeping-in is probably triggered by an earlier action such as hearing the alarm and automatically hitting the sleep button. Identify what triggers the bad habit for you and use the same trigger that fired the bad habit to now fire the good habit. Thus, when you now hear the alarm instead of hitting the sleep button, you jump right out of bed – overriding the old thought and trigger.

Finally, remember changing a habit is not about variety. Keep it simple, keep it the same and do it the same way, day in and day out until it becomes exactly the same way as those old bad habits – programmed and done without even thinking about it! That’s what parents did with you which I also call vigilance.

If you want added support to speed up the process of ending bad habits now and starting new ones quickly and easily, then use my hypnosis audio programs.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & Clinical Hypnotherapist

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