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Embrace Possibility How to Effectively Break Bad Habits
/How to Effectively Break Bad Habits

How to Effectively Break Bad Habits

CigarettesBeing late.

Smoking.

Procrastinating.

We all have bad habits that we want to change. What's frustrating is that we recognize that it's bad for us and clearly see the negative consequences and yet we're powerless to stop it. We see examples of this all around us and it's not wonder why so many people give up trying to break their bad habits.

This article will provide you an important insight for conquering your bad habits. Before I tell you what it is, I need to disclose some good news and bad news:

The good news is that you'll find out what you've been missing to help you break your bad habits.

The bad news is that when you apply this method to break your bad habits, you won't have any more excuses for living a mediocre life. You'll have to live your life to the fullest.

If you're okay with that, read on.

Before we start, what is the bad habit that you want to break?

Keep that habit in mind while you are reading the rest of the article. Don't move on until you've chose a bad habit. I will use procrastination as an example.

The usual approach for breaking a bad habit is to apply brute force. We use discipline and willpower as our tools to fight temptation. We tell ourselves that it will be different this time around. This method usually works the first few times but unfortunately it doesn't last. If it did, you wouldn't be reading this article.

So what is the missing piece?

When dealing with bad habits, you need to recognize that ...

Everything you do has a POSITIVE intention.

That's it. It's about having compassion for yourself. Instead of beating yourself up for being unable to break the "undesired" habit, you need to understad that the "undesired" habit actually helps you in some way.

So think about your bad habit. What is the positive intention of your bad habit?

For procrastination, one positive intention is to prevent failure because if you don't start, you can't fail.

Once you've recognized the positive intention, it's time to get creative and think about alternatives to achieve the same positive intention. In the procrastination example, an alternative strategy to prevent failure besides procrastinating is to break down the activity into smaller more easily achievable pieces.

Now you know the positive intention for your bad habit, take a few minutes to find at least 3 alternative behaviors that meet the positive intention of your bad habit.

Once you have your alternatives, choose one and make sure it is something that you can do without any negative side effects. As long as the alternative behavior satisfies the positive intention, then you won't need to use your previous bad habit to achieve the positive intention. This makes the habit easier to break. The key is to correctly assess the positive intention and finding a better habit to fulfill that intention.

If you haven't used this method, try it and let me know how it goes. Feel free to share your methods for getting over bad habits in the comments section below.

As a bonus, for those of you who are always late, check out how to always be on time.

 

Photo by wlodi

Robert Chen

Robert Chen is the founder of Embrace Possibility and author of The Dreams to Reality Fieldbook. He helps people who feel stuck move forward by guiding them to see other possibilities for their lives. He specializes in working with high performers get to the next level. If you're going through a tough time right now, check out Robert's article on How to Feel Better Right Away and if you're having trouble getting what you want out of life, check out How to Always Achieve Your Goals.

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5 Comments

  1. Stuart Young May 9, 2012 at 8:04 am - Reply

    Excellent post Robert. One of the strategies Bill Harris advises when kicking a bad habit is to replace it with a good habit. It’s because habits are so ingrained in our everyday functioning that when one goes it leaves a gap – and that usually means it gets replaced with another bad one. Quit smoking, start eating! So, if someone wanted to quit smoking they’d be better off creating a positive habit of exercising or painting or crafting etc. Something that involves some kind of physical action which distracts their body from the movements of smoking. Thoughts?

    • Robert Chen May 9, 2012 at 10:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Stuart, we are in agreement concerning a replacement habit but we might have some points of discussion in terms of choosing the right replacement habit. I believe that it is important to first understand why you are doing the bad habit because it must be giving you pleasure in some way even if it leads to a negative consequence. Without recognizing the positive intention of your bad habit, it is difficult to find an appropriate replacement habit. Unless the replacement habit fulfills the positive intention, you will fall back into your bad habit to fulfill it. Exercise might be a good replacement habit for smoking if someone was trying to smoke to lose weight but might not be so good if someone smokes because it is a way to be social with his co-workers or a way to relax (unless they find exercise relaxing). I don’t think it will be as effective if an arbitrary positive habit was put in to fill the gap. What do you think?

      • Stuart Young May 10, 2012 at 6:27 am - Reply

        Yes, I totally agree. Each of us when replacing a bad habit must choose the correct ‘good’ habit in its place. The important thing with smoking as an example is to recognise that it’s a physical habit as well as a mental one. It needs to be replaced with some combination of physical and mental alternative. You hi-light a good point. 🙂

  2. Hussam January 1, 2016 at 5:12 am - Reply

    Great article very useful, thanks Robert

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