Quite a while ago, we have published an article on habits and habit creation called Habits 101. In this article, we talk about how habits work and why they are super beneficial for our lives. What we don’t talk about in depth is how to get rid of the very bad habits that have been ingrained into your mind when you were young and that you’ve carried with you throughout your whole life. This is something that is a huge part of the whole process. You can never instantly forget your bad habits. You can’t simply delete them. What you need to do is to start minimizing the bad stuff and maximize the good stuff. It’s a matter of substitution and correction rather than eradication. In this article, I will talk about how you can begin restructuring your habits by minimizing the bad stuff.
The 4 Steps
If you’ve read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, you might see that the 4 steps I’ll be talking about are in essence the inversions of the 4 steps you have to take to create a habit. The 4 steps I’ll use are not necessarily interchangeable, but some of them might not occur in your solution. I’ll list them in the usual order below. Do bear in mind that these steps require some sense of creativity from your side. Although I will mention some examples, you will have to take these general steps and apply them on your own case.
Step #1 Make It Invisible
For the sake of explanation, I will use a very common habit of all of us. Our reaction to our phone notification. First, you see/hear it make a sound. This connection focuses your attention on the phone – your attention leaves whatever you were focused on before the phone rang. It logically follows that if you want to get rid of this bad habit (constantly checking your phone when working) you have to somehow make sure that your phone is away from you so that you can’t see it, but you also want to make sure that you can’t hear it ring. This is applicable, like most of the steps, pretty much everywhere. You need to somehow make that trigger disappear.
Step #2 Make It Unattractive
The second step in our phone notification scenario is making it unattractive to check the phone. This could mean placing it somewhere high or far from you so getting up and reaching for the phone would be almost annoying. In more general terms, you need to make the bad habit you’re breaking super unattractive. Another example could be – lots of people have bad eating habits. Stick that fat person picture on your fridge. Stick that picture of a fat extraction operation on your fridge. It will make you feel at least a bit disgusted.
Step #3 Make It Difficult
In our phone notification scenario, you could lock the phone somewhere so that you’d have to first look for the key and then unlock the case with the phone. It is a bit extreme (you could figure out some super annoyingly hard method of unlocking your phone), but it makes it difficult to reach for the phone – it also makes it unattractive. In more broader terms, you simply have to make it super hard for you to take the action (in terms of the bad habit). Put that candy high up and lock it down. Put a really long password on your computer so it is difficult to go through every single time.
Step #4 Make It Unsatisfying
The reason we take action on bad habits is the feeling of satisfaction. This is the final battle. If you successfully apply the 3 previous steps, you will most likely not have to do this. But if you fail to take action on the first 3 steps, you need to figure out how to make the habit unsatisfying. The best example I can come up with at the moment is putting pepper on the sweets you really want to eat before you start craving them. Get rid of that satisfaction in advance so that when you encounter the problem, you will have put a solution on the table.
These steps, if applied properly (which means no cheating) will help you break your bad habit. Please do bear in mind that habits take around 30 days to form, thus breaking them might take even longer. It is a long term pull, not a one day push. If you mess up once, you start all over again.
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