Just about everyone in the world has a bad habit they’d like to quit.
Whether it’s smoking, sugar, shopping, nail biting, porn, excessive social media or TV, or any other distraction… for better or worse, we humans are wired for habitual behaviour.
The problem is, most of us are too comfortable in our groove to bother with the cruel and merciless task of reprogramming our behaviours. So we choose the easy and safe path — staying stuck in a negative loop that neither fulfills nor evolves us, ever wondering what life would be like if we could only work up the courage and fortitude to burn away our limitations and leap into our unknown potential.
Trust me, I get it. Quitting a bad habit is hard. In fact, it takes everything we’ve got.
And on the path of extraordinary living, we are faced with endless opportunities to reprogram our patterns. A truly extraordinary life is a journey, not a destination – made up of a series of opportunities to become even better, even stronger, even more evolved than we were before.
Our ability to continually choose change and growth over comfort and predictability is what ultimately builds our character and a fulfilling life.
It’s hard to change ingrained patterns. But it’s doable.
Here are 9 powerful steps you can take to quit a bad habit:
(Note: You don’t need to follow every single step to quit a habit… but the more of them you do, the higher your chances of success will be. If you want to go all in, commit to all of them. Otherwise, get creative and see what works for you.)
- Have a big motivation.
Lots of times people quit things because it sounds nice: “It would be nice to quit caffeine” or “how amazing would I feel if I quit drinking alcohol.” But ultimately this is weak motivation. What you need is a strong motivation. A strong motivation has a direction: you are going away from smoking because_____ and you’re also going towards quitting smoking because____ A strong motivation is congruent with your Life Values. Saying “I’m going to quit smoking because it increases the risk of cancer” means nothing if “health” is not at the very top of your Values list. However saying “I am going to quit smoking because every cigarette I smoke might take away another year spent with my kids and loved ones” might hit the right spot if “family” is at the very top of your Values list. Know your Why, and connect with it throughout your Quit. Write it down at the very top of a document called your “Quit Plan.”
- Make a big commitment.
Now that you know your motivation, be fully committed. A common mistake is to say, “I’ll do this today,” but then let yourself off the hook when the urges get strong or you start to face resistance. Instead, tell everyone about it. Ask for their help. Give them regular updates and be accountable. Have a support partner you can call on when you need help. Ask people not to let you off the hook. And know that, in the beginning, it’s going to feel like swimming against the current. Stick with it through thick and thin. Be all in.
- Be aware of your triggers.
What events trigger your bad habit? Recognise that the habit doesn’t just happen… it is triggered by something else: you smoke when other people smoke, or you shop when you feel like you’re not enough, or you eat junk food when you’re stressed, or you watch porn when you’re lonely, or you check your social media when you feel the need to fill space in your day. Watch yourself for a few days and notice what triggers your habit. Make a list of all those triggers on your Quit Plan, and develop a strong awareness of when those triggers happen.
- Know what is the function of the habit
This is a big one because it gets to the deeper root of the behaviour. We all have bad habits for a reason — they meet some kind of need (or at least leave us feeling like they do). For every trigger you wrote down, look at what specific need the habit might be meeting in that case. The habit might be helping you cope with stress. For some of the other triggers, it might help you to avoid something, or cope with sadness, boredom, loneliness, feeling bad about yourself, being sick, dealing with a crisis, or needing a break or treat or comfort. Write these needs down on your Quit Plan, and think of other healthier and more fulfilling ways you’d like to start meeting those needs when they inevitably arise in you in the form of cravings (which leads to #5).
- Have a replacement habit for each trigger.
So what will you do when you face the trigger of stress? You can’t just not do your old bad habit — it will leave an unfilled need, a hole that you will end up filling with your old bad habit. You have to develop a good habit of doing when you get stressed, or when someone gets angry at you, or when you’re feeling bad about yourself, etc. Consciously choose a new positive habit for each of your triggers, and write them down on your Quit Plan.
- Watch the urges, and delay, delay, delay.
You will likely get strong urges to return to your bad habit when the triggers happen, especially in the beginning or in moments of intensity. These urges are dangerous if you just act on them without thinking. Learn to recognise them as they happen, and create more space between your stimulus and the response. In that space, simply sit there and watch the urge rise and get stronger, and then shrink and fall. There is an ebb and flow to it. This is where awareness and mindfulness are built… in the spaces between things. So delay yourself. Stop what you’re doing and just breathe deeply. Remove distractions and create inner stillness. Become a witness to yourself. Be curious about that need, pay attention to it, stay with it and breathe through it. Go for a walk. Get out of the situation. Call someone if you need the support. Above all else, remember — the urge will go away if you just delay it.
- Do the new habit each time the trigger happens.
This will take a lot of conscious effort — be very aware of when the trigger happens, and very aware of doing the new habit instead of the old automatic one. If you mess up, practice instant self-forgiveness, but you need to be very conscious of being consistent here, so the new habit will start to become automatic. This is one reason it’s difficult to start with changing bad habits — if there are multiple triggers that happen randomly throughout the day, it means you need to be conscious of your habit change all day, every day, for weeks or more. Difficult, but absolutely doable.
- Be aware of your thinking.
Human beings have an amazing capacity for justifying bad habits with our thinking. You must watch your thoughts and realise when you’re making excuses for doing your old bad habit, or when you start feeling like giving up instead of sticking to your change. Don’t believe your rationalisations. Make choices you know you’ll be proud of. Tell your inner mind “thank you for sharing, but I will choose differently this time”
- Learn from mistakes.
We all mess up sometimes — if you do, be forgiving and gentle with yourself, and don’t let one mistake derail you. See what happened, accept it, figure out a better plan for next time and improve. Write this on your Quit Plan. Your plan will get better and better as you continually improve it. In this way, mistakes are helping you improve the method.
“Using the power of decision gives you the capacity to get past any excuse to change any and every part of your life in an instant.” Tony Robbins
So make the decision, and stick with it. You got this!
It’s in our moments of decision that our destiny in shaped, again and again.