How to Break Your Bad Habits
Breaking habits is a multi-billion dollar industry.
If you obsess over the bad habit you have, whether it’s biting your nails, overindulging in unhealthy foods or overspending, this post is for you.
Here is how I like to coach my clients on how to break their bad habits.
Let’s begin with reframing the entire conversation. We’ll use nail biting as an example.
Why is nail biting a bad habit? Is it inherently bad? Where did you pick up the habit? It must have served you in some way when you started it—maybe it is something you do during anxious seasons at work.
Let’s look at our mental steps in what’s really happening when you make the decision to break the habit.
- You get nervous at work because of a big proposal.
- You start biting your nails without thinking.
- You notice you’re biting your nails while you’re typing away on your computer, glancing at the clock, worried about your deadline.
- You feel disgust and frustration at yourself for biting your nails.
- You promise yourself to get some chemicals to paint on them after work to prevent you again from biting your nails.
- You continue working, while your brain is also distracted by trying to run a program that continuously reminds you to not bite your nails.
See how that could be a problem? You’ve added self judgement on top of work stress for a potent little cocktail.
My point is this: Whatever you order your life around, you will make the center of your life.
If you order your life around your inner needs and emotional health, your “bad” habits will fall away easily.
If you order your life around controlling annoying little “bad” habits you don’t like about yourself, then you’ve just added another habit—negative micromanaging yourself. And no one likes a micromanager.
Here’s how I like to help my clients resolve the habits they don’t want to continue:
- The first step in breaking a bad habit is not trying to break the habit anymore! Give up! Quit!
Let’s do something more important: let’s look at why you have the habit in the first place. When did you pick it up? Our bodies try to find ways to handle our unexpressed emotions. Nail biting, to continue with our old example, must have served you emotionally in some way. Did you pick up your habit during your parent’s divorce as a child? Or maybe during your divorce you picked up the chocolate ice cream and never put it down?
Quit judging yourself, instead, face your inner Self with curiosity. Ask him or her why she or he thinks this habit is helpful. Ask the Self without judgement.
- Accept yourself. Accept that you have this habit. See it for what it really is. Of course some habits are more harmful than others. The one I’ve chosen—nail biting—isn’t that harmful. Other habits like smoking or drinking too much, are more serious “habits.” But the statement doesn’t change: accept yourself, accept that you have the recurring pattern. See that you’re acting a certain way, and do it without judgement, instead, empathize with yourself.
Understand that self-judgment causes you to revert to back to old patterns because of familiarity stress and internal pressure.
Force never changes anything.
It’s why we gain the weight back, pick up smoking, or bite our nails again every time. We haven’t dealt with the underlying emotions and we haven’t accepted ourselves.
Relieve stress around the idea that it is a bad habit will help you reframe the effects of the habit. When the judgement dissipate you don’t have to force the change to happen, changes just happens naturally.