Bad habits, vices, personal weaknesses.
Whatever you want to call them, they exist. And everyone deals with them. Some spiral into full-blown addiction and some become a pestering weight on the mind. We can all do with eliminating them and the sooner, the better.
Every time you indulge in your bad habit, the roots of it wrap themselves around your core essence, digging deeper and deeper into your psyche. No matter how ‘bad’ you consider your habit to be, working towards throwing it out of your life will leave you with a profound sense of relief.
The term ‘bad habits’ really encompasses everything on the spectrum, from the little things: excessive social media usage, inconsistency in the gym, compulsive procrastination. To the bigger things: porn addictions, binge eating, profusely wasting money. It varies for each human, we are all dealing with our own unique perspectives of the world.
Bad habits put up a facade of seeming harmless and irrelevant, but they go far deeper. They engrain themselves into your character. As you begin to intrinsically accept that this bad habit is a part of you, this is where you risk failure. It becomes like a deceptive parasite.
Everyone has their personal demons they battle in silence. It feels as though you can't escape them. Your greatest weaknesses are usually synergistic with your deepest ingrained bad habits. Freeing yourself from them no matter how significant can leave you feeling liberated.
I recently overcame years of indulgence in a bad habit that was personal to me. These four principles are what worked best in helping me overcome it.
1| Lock it up in a bottle and bid farewell
“Even a spineless anthropod sheds what’s no longer useful and leaves it behind them. Are you not greater than they?”
― Jason Versey
One thing we as a species are good at is making things into a big deal. We are always overdramatic. The most important lesson I learned when I kicked my bad habit to the curb was that the more we ponder on the thought of breaking a bad habit, the longer the habit lingers.
As cliche as it sounds, the battle is all in your mind. Your mind creates the reality you experience. Through your perceptions alone, you can flick internal switches to stop letting the thoughts of the bad habit fuel it further.
“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”
― mahatma gandhi
Don’t let your worries about how bad a habit is or how it's destroying your productivity cross your mind. Forget about it. As Gandhi says, it has “dirty feet”. Why pollute your brain with such angst? Forbid the negative thoughts to enter the mind. By entertaining the mental battle against it, you are adding fuel to the fire.
Of course, this is easier said than done, as psychology does say otherwise. The main evidence-backed time frame for habit breaking comes from a 2009 research study, which suggests it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days.
In order to understand why this is the case, you need to understand how habits work. It’s a loop:
- First, you get reminded of something that triggers the said behavior (cue).
- Next, performing the behaviors provides you with a reward. That satisfaction and ‘feel good’ factor.
- The feeling of the reward reinforces the desire to continue performing the behavior (craving).
The truth is that forgetting about a bad habit is actually a way to distance ourselves from it. As you repeatedly try to stray away from the thought of how shitty the habit is making your life and move to a perspective of “I’m done with letting this affect me”, you can make powerful gains.
For me, this was a matter of not letting the bad habit affect me mentally anymore. The preoccupation of worrying about how I’m going to try to kick the habit turned it into what seemed like a gargantuan battle that was wrecking my life. This was far from the reality, but I had convinced myself otherwise.
Once you tell yourself to stop making it into a big deal and try your hardest to not think about it, it becomes significantly easier to quit the habit.
For example, let’s say your bad habit is being addicted to constantly chewing sugary gum.
- You want to quit, but all you can think about is how bad it is for you and how it’s destroying your teeth.
- Therefore you keep thinking about it and turning it into a big deal. You won’t die from chewing sugary gum so just stop making it out to be the end of the world.
- As soon as the thought of how bad chewing sugary gum is eliminated, it helps with the whole quitting process.
Talking to someone about the quitting process can help you free your mind from it.
2| Confide in an accountability partner
“Surround yourself with people who don’t just ask how you are doing. Surround yourself with people who make an effort to make sure they are part of the reason you are doing so well.” — Jennae Cecelia
Most of us prefer to keep our bad habits to ourselves. They can be embarrassing after all. However, there needs to be one person in your life that you will have to exchange complete transparent honesty with. This means telling them everything about the bad habit, even if it’s shameful or you feel like you may be judged. Everything needs to come out.
This person is your accountability partner. For me, it was a close friend who had struggled with the same vice in the past. Make sure it’s a reliable, trustworthy person who actually cares about you. They are going to be crucial in helping you beat the crap out of this habit till it no longer exists.
James clear talks about this in his book “Atomic habits”. His idea is that you create a contract with someone to formally have your commitment presented to them, which will help you stick with it.
“A habit contract is a verbal or written agreement in which you state your commitment to a particular habit and the punishment that will occur if you don’t follow through. Then you find one or two people to act as your accountability partners and sign off on the contract with you”
I adapted this idea slightly. My accountability partner was someone who I would text or call straight away if I felt like indulging in the bad habit. This way, I would be convinced by my partner to not do it. Obviously beforehand, you have to brief your partner on roughly what to say when you call them in this fashion. This is a further reason why your accountability partner has to be someone that cares about your success.
Adding an additional person into your journey of kicking a bad habit creates a whole different sense of responsibility. You are no longer trying to kick the habit for yourself, but also for someone close to you. You have to keep reminding yourself of this fact.
Having someone (figuratively) watching over your mind makes you think twice before committing to any bad action. Their disappointment becomes the cost of your failures. Throwing the disappointment of someone close to you in the mix will change the way you approach quitting. Don’t disappoint.
“Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy — the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.”
― Eric Hoffer
3| Rediscover, replace, and recentre
“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
When one seeks to fix their weaknesses, they can also build new strengths. A beautiful pairing of stark opposites. I discovered this once I became super determined to eliminate a few bad habits out of my life. It somehow became the perfect time to introduce new good habits.
As you realize what you need to change, big or small, a willingness to discover new things arises. This is the rediscovery period when new habits are the easiest to form.
Once you begin to incorporate these into your life, the process of replacement happens. Out with the old habit, in with the new.
Finally, you can begin to descend down a path of recentred consciousness. You no longer need your old habit, because it’s in the past. It’s easier to stop thinking about negative influences in your life as you build up the newfound positive habits.
The three R’s of habit replacement.
If you don't replace old bad habits with new good ones, it’s like buying a new car and keeping the engine from the old run-down car inside it. It makes no sense.
By incorporating new positive habits, you start to build-up momentum in kicking the old thought patterns. This is because you now associate quitting an old action with starting your new daily habits. So every time you perform your new habits, you get led further away from the old habit.
The key is to make these new habits as simple and as daily as possible. For me, the two main ones were ice-cold showers and long walks. Showers and walks are something you can (and should) do every day. Therefore these consistently remind me of the new path I’ve embarked on when I engage in these new habits. It reminds me to stay clear from any potential past triggers.
Psychology proves that building and breaking habits are two very closely linked actions. They are like two sides of the same coin. When you build a new habit whilst quitting an old one, the pattern of neuron responses that make you respond to your old habit are still there. Therefore creating new habits makes those patterns far less potent.
“It’s much easier to start doing something new than to stop doing something habitual without a replacement behaviour,” — neuroscientist Elliot Berkman.
4| You have to make it unattractive
“All cruelty springs from weakness.” — Seneca
This is probably the easiest part of the process. When you think of your bad habit, how does it make you feel? The answer to this question is something we can change and control. By creating a negative response to this question, you can help yourself steer well away from your bad habit out of pure fear.
A bad habit is bad for a reason. It adds no positive influence to your life and makes you feel guilty for consistently going back to it.
To make sure you stay away from your bad habit it’s important to highlight every reason why you need to quit:
- All the negative aspects of the action.
- All the negative emotions it creates.
- How ugly it can seem to others.
- How pointless it is and how much time you waste.
Even if your bad habit is as small as nail-biting, this is important to help you keep away from it.
In the book ‘Atomic Habits’, James Clear highlights the “Four Laws Of Behavior Change”. These are four sets of rules to help you build new, good habits. Well, if you reverse them, they also provide a framework for quitting bad ones. The one we will focus on is the second law:
“Make it attractive”.
This appeals to the craving aspect of a habit. We talked about this in the first section. After engaging in any habit, you get the feeling of reward. This reinforces the desire to continue performing the behavior (craving). Reversing this gives us:
“Make it unattractive”.
Therefore this can work in breaking a habit because it is eliminating your cravings for it.
Let’s look at social media addiction as an example of a bad habit. We’re going to tear this habit down and leave it in its most raw, destructive, and unattractive form. The most simple aspect to look at in excessive use of social media is the time-wasting aspect. Calculate how much time you waste on social media a week and then imagine what you could have done with that time had you added it to another aspect of your life.
You have to be brutally honest with yourself in this exercise. There is no space for self-deception here. You have to strip it down for what it is and expose to yourself how much of a negative influence it has on you.
I wrote everything out in a journal. My list was around 20 bullet points long, and I regularly referred to it to be reminded how unattractive the habit was.
Once you strive to improve yourself and reflect on how your bad habits are weakening your character and your mind, you can grow. Growth comes from accepting the weaknesses and transcending beyond them. The way our weaknesses control our minds says a lot about us, and simply realizing this is a massive step in the right direction.
However big or small your bad habit is, just remember that striving to leave it behind will lead you to change other aspects of your life in a positive way. It’s a domino effect.
Eliminating harmful habits leads to a building of positive influences.
You will soon realize that it’s all in the mind. All your concerns are created by your mind and none need to be experienced. You can choose to be free of them. All it takes is to put things in a new perspective.
- Throw away and leave behind all the preconceived notions you’ve created about how your habit affects you. The less you think about it, the less likely you are to engage in it.
- Find someone who you trust, tell them everything, and promise not to disappoint them. Disappointment will drive you away from committing the bad action.
- Building new and positive habits will help you to cut out the old ones. Each time you engage in a new positive habit you are reminded to stay away from the bad habit.
- Highlight the disgusting aspects. The more repulsive you can make the bad habit seem, the better. It helps you not crave the action anymore.