- Don’t do the habit.
- Don’t do the habit for a long time.
- Don’t do the habit for a very, very long time.
Okay, I’m just joking here. But if it were that easy, none of us would have bad habits, right?
Here is an excellent protocol to break a bad habit:
- Create a Vital Vision. Make sure you are very clear about the “why” of breaking your habit. What is your passion in life that your habit is damaging? What do you see yourself achieving when you have ditched your bad habit? Make a Pinterest board or actual poster in your room to study EVERY DAY.
- Decide on a Replacement activity. Nature abhors a vacuum, so you need to fill that space with an activity. Choose an action you can do instead of the habit you are breaking. Instead of eating candy, you can take a drink of juice or water. Instead of couch surfing, you ride an exercycle while watching TV. Instead of smoking, you enjoy a sucker.
- Envision yourself succeeding. Don’t shortcut this step people! This is extremely important and very easy. Just set a morning reminder to take 3 minutes to envision yourself pushing away the temptation, turning and engaging in your replacement activity. The mirror neurons in your brain don’t make much distinction about what you envision and what you actually do. So this envisioning process is a great way to repattern your future actions, and impulses. Make sure you envision yourself resisting the urge with as much detail as possible — sights, smells, feelings, taste, hearing. Your brain will believe the imagery with more details present.
- Set-up for Success. Many times, we set-up for failure hours ahead, when we aren’t even aware of it. If you are changing a fast-food habit, did you “forget” to pack a healthy lunch in the morning? If you are wanting to exercise on the way home from work, did you “forget” to pack your gym clothes? Do you stay up too late and “have to” sleep in? Think of the “big picture” when shifting a habit and notice how small decisions ahead of time can make later decisions MUCH easier!
- Enlist allies. Tell your friends and family about your goal and encourage them to support you in positive ways. No nagging or shaming allowed! If you fail and they notice, simply own your part and recommit. Hopefully, they will encourage your progress.
- Learn to Self-Validate. Maybe you think that giving yourself props is narcissistic. It’s not! Just remember that resilient people self-validate. Non-resilient people don’t. Self-validation is crucial because you want to keep your motivation up even when others don’t notice. Validation can be as easy as thinking, “Great Job, Dave!”
- Don’t Beat Yourself Up. This is a bad habit in itself! But it damages your self-confidence to change yourself, so don’t do it. Instead, find SOMETHING that you can self-validate – even when you fail. Instead of saying, “I screwed up again! I knew I couldn’t do it!” you can say, “Hey, I worked my program for 3 days! That’s a huge improvement over the past! As long as I learn something from my glitch, I can still move forward!” See step 6. Notice, however, how often a lapse occurs after you fail to envision success that day!
- Reward yourself. And don’t wait until you have accomplished huge milestones. Set up rewards for small successes. In fact, self-validation is a powerful reward that you can use many times every single day. So don’t forget to reward yourself in many ways!
- Track your success. See how long you can go without a lapse and make it a game rather than a high-stakes contest to avoid failure. At first, you may need to adjust your metric to track your behavior every hour, rather than every day. That way, you can focus on the 23 hours you didn’t act out as you are diminishing your habit!
- Be patient. Change is a growth process to learn new patterns to old stimuli. Imagine how long it take to grow a garden tomato. So give yourself the same amount of time to develop a new habit. 100 days is about right to truly focus on the repatterning procedure.
- Persevere! Lapses are simply your brain going into “autopilot” and acting-out well-established patterns from the past. Since you are creating new patterns, you must expect that the old patterns will take a while to weaken. Your new pattern will be weak for awhile, but over time, it will become the strong pattern and override the former bad habit pattern. Research shows that the more often a person tries to quit smoking the greater the odds of success because the pattern gradually weakens. Few people are able to go “cold turkey” on smoking or any other bad habit.
I hope that encourages you! I’m having fun breaking a habit involving watching TV while I eat. It’s no surprise that I’m drawn to pair one activity with the other, right? But the new pattern is to talk to family members instead of watch the screen. So far, it has worked great!