zen habits : breathe

How to Turn Bad Habits into Good Habits

Note: This is a guest post by John Wesley of Pick the Brain about motivation, intelligence, self-improvement, creativity and much more. If you enjoy this post, I recommend you head to his site for more great writing.

Humans are creatures of habit. Think of your daily routine. Every weekday I get up, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and drive to work. Always in the exact same order. The details might vary, but I usually do the exact same thing every single day. I like it that way.

I like it because it makes me feel in control and because I don’t have to do unnecessary planning. A predictable routine is extremely comforting. The problem is that we get comfortable with bad habits. When a bad habit becomes a part of your daily routine, you lose consciousness of it. You just keep doing it without thinking.

Becoming accustomed to a bad habit makes that habit seem much harder to give up than it really is. You don’t want to change. When you try to give up a bad habit, it leaves a void in your routine that leads to restlessness and urges. The best way to fill this void is with a good habit.

The first step in the process is deciding to give up the bad habit. You can’t decide to give it up because other people say you should. The drive to change must come from within. This drive is created by understanding how the bad habit is harmful.

Decide to Stop Hurting Yourself

Consider the bad habit of going out drinking. It’s absurd when you think about what you’re actually doing. You pay hard earned money to feel hungover and exhausted. Would you pay someone to hit you on the head with a wrench? Getting drunk is basically the same deal.

Once you realize the harm that you do yourself, bad habits become much less appealing. But giving them up still isn’t easy because most bad habits aren’t all bad. Going out drinking satisfies a need for social interaction and excitement. These desires themselves aren’t bad, but we need a better way to satisfy them.

Substitute a Good Habit

Giving up a bad habit shouldn’t be unpleasant, but it is when we feel like we’re denying ourselves. We need to fill the void in our daily routine with something that isn’t as harmful, and we also need to reward ourselves to maintain our motivation.

Suppose you want to stop drinking. It’s tough because you miss the excitement of going out and interacting with other people. Fortunately, there are other ways to fulfill these desires that aren’t as destructive or expensive.

Instead of going out at night, try getting out during the day. Get up early and do something you enjoy. Take a walk around the neighborhood or hang out in a coffee shop for a couple hours. When Friday and Saturday night come around, you won’t feel as restless and the urge to go out drinking will be easier to resist.

Different things work for different people. The key is finding a better way to satisfy the desires you used to satisfy with the bad habit.

If you can replace a bad habit with a positive, enjoyable habit, the change is much more likely to stick. Once you are able to feel satisfied without harming yourself, you’ll wonder how that old bad habit seemed so enjoyable.

Read more posts by John at the Pick the Brain blog.



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