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How To Break a Bad Habit

By: Ken Austin

One dictionary defines a habit as “a recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition.” In other words, a habit is something done habitually such that it becomes a cognitively engrained behavior that often escapes conscious attention (it is done unconsciously and automatically).

  Habits can be either good habits or bad habits (or at least they are regularly perceived as such). Now, most people aren’t interested in changing their good habits but are, on the other hand, often desirous to change their bad habits.

A bad habit is a habit that one deems undesirable and often finding difficult to break. Examples of “bad habits” include: smoking, drinking too much/too often, spending too much money, eating poorly, avoiding exercise, etc. All of the aforementioned can have a detrimental impact on the individual.

If one desires to change or “break” a bad habit, be forewarned—it isn’t an easy process. And while there is no one-size fits all approach or a perfect “ten step” program that works for everyone, there are some general principles that can be followed to help one break free from the bonds of a bad habit. There is some confidence to be found in this simple fact—It was one’s choices that led to the formation of the bad habit in the first place and other, better choices can lead to its dissolution.

1. One must first recognize and define the bad habit. If one does not first see the bad habit as in fact bad, he or she will have no desire to change it. What is the habit? How does this particular habit affect you? Is this habit detrimental to your health, relationships, finances, etc.?

2. One must not only recognize the habit as bad but must also desire to be rid of the habit. This involves the commitment of the will to achieve the goal of freedom from the habit. Ask yourself, and answer honestly—Do you truly want to be rid of this habit? And are you prepared for the struggle that is to come on the path to extinguishing the habit? For example, smokers often to say that they wish to quite smoking while it is often the case that they in fact do not truly wish to quit and thus set themselves up for automatic failure.

3. One must take definitive action to be rid of the habit. Breaking a habit takes both action and time—action over time specifically. Depending on the particular habit that one desires to break, certain systematic steps must first be taken that bring one ever closer to the goal of being, ultimately, freed from the habit. State exactly what it is that you wish to change and how you intend to go about changing it. It is of the utmost importance that you be realistic in stating both your goal and your plan of action lest you set yourself up for failure.

Essential to a successful program of bad habit breaking is the replacement of the bad habit with a good habit. It is much easier to substitute one behavior for another as opposed to simply doing away with a behavior altogether.

For example, for the one desirous to quit smoking, when the urge to smoke overcomes him or her, he or she could have a drink of healthy juice instead. While this seems rather simplistic and perhaps silly even, over time the urge to smoke will dissipate into the satisfaction produced by the new habit, drinking juice, eventually vanishing altogether. In the end, a healthy new habit has replaced an old bad habit.

The most important thing to remember when attempting to establish new good habits and do away with old bad habits is to be patient with yourself. Change takes time but change is very possible. As stated above, it is choices (less than ideal choices to be sure) that led to the establishment of your current bad habit and better, more ideal choices can help you vanquish that same habit and replace it with a new, better, “good habit” even.

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