We all have at least one bad habit. If we are honest, we likely have more than one. Maybe you bite your nails. Maybe you curse before you can stop yourself. Possibly you have an ugly attitude that leads to things like road rage or saying things that you do not really mean. If you want to break a bad habit (or habits), I have some suggestions that can help.
To break a bad habit, you must realize what a habit is and what an addiction is. A habit is defined as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” An addiction is “Habitual psychological and physiological dependence on a substance or practice beyond one’s voluntary control.” It may be difficult to break a bad habit, but an addiction can be impossible to break without help and at times (such as with alcoholism) it can be dangerous to break an addiction without help. I will focus only on how to break a bad habit in this article and would advise anyone with an addiction to any substance or practice to seek professional help in ridding themselves of it.
When you want to break a bad habit, you need to replace that bad habit with something good. For instance, if you want to stop biting your nails use gum to keep your mouth busy. If you want to stop eating so much, give yourself only enough to time to eat a healthy amount before moving on to another healthy and desirable activity. If you want to stop cursing, write yourself a small list of safe words to say instead. Have one “good habit” action ready to replace the bad habit. Do not have more than one good habit to replace the bad habit as this could lead to indecision instead of the automatic replacement of a bad habit with a good habit.
To break a bad habit, you will need accountability. You can hold yourself accountable, but I do not recommend having only yourself as a source of accountability. Involve family, willing co-workers, and friends. Let them know you want to break a bad habit and that you want to be held accountable. People love to catch other people doing things they should not be doing. If your bad habit is one that directly affects others, such as cursing or having a nasty attitude or talking to loudly on your cell phone, you will find that others are more than willing to let you know if you are participating in your bad habit. Children are probably the best helpers in this area. Not only do they parrot everything you say and do, but to be able to correct mom or dad without getting into trouble is fun!
You can employ the “money jar” accountability system to break a bad habit. Keep jar at home, in your car and in the office. Whenever you participate in your bad habit, drop a pre-set amount of money into the jar. (The amount does not have to be big, but should be enough to make it hurt a bit when you have to put money in the jar.) When you use your new, good habit instead of your old bad habit, the same amount of money comes out of the jar.
The best thing that has helped me to break a bad habit is pretending like I do not have that bad habit. When my oldest child was around three years old, I found myself resorting to yelling to prompt him to obey. What I was doing and my mind set about obedience went against my ideals for how to parent my children, therefore was a bad habit for me. To break this bad habit, I pretended that I was not a mother who yelled. I looked down on the practice and thought to myself, “I do not yell. That is below me.” When combined with replacing my bad habit with a good one, and asking for accountability, my new mindset helped me to conquer this bad habit.
If you truly feel disgust over your bad habit, you are on the right path. The problem is that you may also feel disgust with yourself. You are not your bad habit. You are above your bad habit. To break a bad habit, you have to think yourself “better than that”. If you truly believe that you are not the sort of person who would have a bad habit such as ______, then you will be better able to break a bad habit. Know, however, that this is not a license for snobbery once you have broken your habit. To break a bad habit and then look down on others with the same habit is, well frankly, a bad habit in itself. Use your knowledge and your experience to help others break a bad habit. When someone asks how you did it, share that information and be humble. Becoming a better person does not mean you are more valuable than anyone else. It simply means you are better able to help others and carry out your calling because you have one less thing holding you back.