Kicking bad habits can seem impossible sometimes.
If you are anything like me, there are certain habits you have been looking to abandon for years now.
Something in your mind is screaming every time you engage in your chosen vice, yet you just can’t seem to stop anyways.
Bad habits affect all areas of our lives.
Some are detrimental to our health, some hurt our relationships, and almost all of our bad habits limit us from becoming the best person we can possibly be.
What if I told you that you could gain the high ground over your bad habits?
Your habits may still whisper in your ear from time to time but we can develop systems to ignore them, like a mom who tunes out her kid after he cried wolf 10 too many times.
Whether you are looking to give up junk food, coffee, porn, or even recreational alcohol use, these tips should greatly increase your chances.
Kicking Bad Habits 101
There is no special secret or magic pill that is going to help you overcome a habit.
Realistically, we have to reprogram our mind and view the situation at hand a little bit differently.
As our perception begins to change, kicking bad habits becomes much easier.
Waking up every day with the same state of mind is getting us nowhere. Only when we begin to think differently do we think about the habits that are hurting us.
Would The Greatest Version Of Yourself Do It?
What is the greatest version of yourself, or better yet, who is the greatest version of yourself?
What does this person do for a living and how much do they make in a year? Does the greatest version of yourself have a great physique? Do they have lots of friends?
Take some time to evaluate who you would be in a perfect world.
Once you have discovered who that person is, ask yourself these two key questions: What kind of good habits does this person have? What are some bad habits they wouldn’t be caught dead doing?
The truth is, you can become the greatest version of yourself. All it takes is the removal of a few bad habits and a few good habits to replace them.
Next time you try to quit smoking or are craving a cheeseburger, ask yourself if the greatest version of yourself would engage in something so ridiculous.
Replace Your Habit With Something Productive
The brain releases dopamine in response to pleasure or accomplishment.
Instant gratification, in the form of a bad habit, releases just enough dopamine to keep us coming back for more.
Over time, we begin to crave that release of dopamine and something that was an occasional indulgence can quickly turn into a bad habit.
The longer this cycle goes on, the harder it becomes to break.
Often times it is much easier to get this release of dopamine through our habits than it is through accomplishing something real.
Truthfully, things like getting out in nature, exercising, or eating a healthy meal release just as much of this pleasure chemical. They sustain the release of dopamine for longer and further build on each other over time.
Unfortunately, they take a bit more effort and therefore are often replaced for easier bad habits.
If we want to overcome a bad habit that has been ingrained over years, we should aim to replace the habit with a healthier release of dopamine.
In doing so, we keep our brains happy and simultaneously diminish cravings as our dopamine levels are still nurtured.
Next time you find yourself craving something you know you shouldn’t do, do something that makes you feel good about yourself instead.
Soon enough the compound effect will be working in your favor.
The Compound Effect
I highly recommend reading The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. In fact, that is this articles homework lesson.
The Compound Effect is the simplest, yet most life changing principle you are likely to ever learn.
It is the antidote to instant gratification, which as you likely know, is the root of all your bad habits.
Almost everything you do in a day boils down to a simple choice.
The food you eat is a choice. Allowing your anger to get the best of you is a choice. Engaging in your bad habits is a choice.
Every choice we make throughout a day either propels our life forward, causes stagnation, or further sets us down a dark rabbit hole.
By making the right choice every time you are presented the option, you can make every day work for you.
Making the right choices over time has a compounding effect which can change your life, however, this phenomenon takes time to take effect.
Cutting out one greasy meal per day may not show benefit for the first month, however, one day you may step on a scale and realize you have lost five pounds.
Staying in one weekend rather than spending all of your weeks’ savings at the bar may not seem beneficial immediately. After a few weekends of doing so, your bank account may look a whole lot more in your favor.
Once you start to see the benefits, they begin to compound. You probably realize you like having abs more than eating cheeseburgers or enjoy having a growing bank account rather than hangovers.
This further benefits you via the ripple effect.
If you are no longer eating fast food, you likely have more energy to exercise which further adds to your physique. You begin to feel better about yourself and soon enough you find a partner which may have been a struggle for you in the past.
If you are no longer hungover all weekend, you have the energy and time to pick up a side job and make a few additional bucks. Over the course of a few years, you have saved enough for a down payment on a house.
The ripple effect goes both ways. One small slip up can take you back down a hole you thought you escaped. It may not just be a matter of having to say no once if you choose to say yes this time.
Next time you are struggling to say no to something, ask how it may cause a negative ripple effect in your life. If you do say no, how may it cause a positive ripple and compound?
Action step: Write down your three biggest vices and take a few minutes to evaluate how they may be bleeding into other, unexpected, areas of your life. What would it look like over the course of a few years if you managed to eliminate them? If not?
Just For Today
Kicking a bad habit is a day by day process.
Ask any recovering drug addict and they will tell you to put one foot in front of the other and focus on getting through each day.
Assuming you are not in the grasp of a serious addiction, all it takes is a few days to get your feet off of the ground.
The first few days your habit may be all you can think about.
As the one week mark comes around, you are likely going to have days where you realize you went the whole day without thinking about it.
For myself, coffee is the perfect example. Whenever I decide to stop drinking coffee, for a time, the first few days are excruciating. It is at the forefront of my thoughts all day for these first few days.
After the third successive day, it only crosses my mind if I pass a Starbucks or my girlfriend is sipping on one.
For the first few painful days, keep reminding yourself that you just have to get through today. If you feel like you are going to die, tell yourself you can do it tomorrow.
When tomorrow comes around, begin another today.
You are stronger than you know. 24 hours come and go like the wind.
Buckle down and become your own success story one day at a time.
Keep busy and use other tactics listed here. You may need to temporarily remove yourself from environments where you would be triggered to engage in your habit.
What Is Your Why?
Kicking bad habits is a whole lot easier when you know exactly why you are stopping.
Nobody has ever stopped doing something they enjoy just because they woke up on the left side of their bed when they usually wake up on the right.
Every person and every habit may have a different why.
If you are trying to quit smoking, perhaps your why is your longevity. If you are trying to quit watching porn, your why may be your relationship, or lack of one.
One of the hardest habits (not an addiction) I ever had to stop was smoking weed. I smoked almost every day for three years from age 17-20.
In my mind, it cured my depression and lifted my mood. I tried multiple times to stop, largely due to health anxiety but I never had a solid why.
It didn’t help that my friend group at the time was always doing it so it was always readily available.
I tripped over my own shoes for another year or so until I finally stumbled upon my why: I realized it was exaggerating my anxiety dramatically.
At the time, anxiety was ruining my life. If quitting marijuana would improve it even 20%, that was all the reason I needed.
The day I found my why, I cleaned house and threw out everything that could cause a potential slip up. It was over a year before I ever had another puff.
What is your why? What matters to you more than your habit?
If you fail to come to a solid why, consider these four areas of your life: mental health, physical health, loved ones, career.
There is an extremely high chance that your bad habit is affecting one of these areas and you may not even notice it until you raise your awareness.
Find your why and kiss your habit goodbye.
You may have heard of an accountability partner before. This is someone who shares your ambitions and helps hold you accountable.
This is a definite weapon in your arsenal but in my personal experience, it is often underwhelming.
Truthfully, it is hard to find someone who actually takes the time to check on you. It may work well for the first few weeks but when the excitement fades I am willing to guess the check-ups stop rolling in.
I have personally tried this with multiple people and I always feel as though I am the only one making an initiative.
What I feel works better is letting everyone know that you are quitting whatever it is you need to quit (assuming it isn’t private).
If you are comfortable enough, let your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram know.
This works in two ways:
- You get support on a larger scale. If ten people don’t care on a given day, you may still be lucky enough to find one person who does care. That one person may make the difference for the day. I have seen two friends on Facebook make note of going to rehab for an addiction. Both of these girls are sober a year later and I believe the continual support they received made a significant difference.
- Your word is on the line. If you told all of Facebook you were quitting drinking and yet next week you were out at the bar with 10 people who saw your claim, you would look like a fool. When your word is out there you are much more accountable
Note: I mention using social media but in my humble opinion social media is a habit in need of serious kicking in and of itself.
I instead tell everyone I hang out with when I want to quit something. Some of my friends will tell me “ok bud we will see” and others support me 110%. The support is fantastic but the doubt from my other friends motivates me just as much.
Imagine The Long-Term Effects Were Instant
This is another trick I acquired while reading The Compound Effect.
When trying to fend off the temptation of instant gratification, we often tend to ignore the potential long term effects they may be having.
Many of us know that eating fast food is terrible for our cardiovascular health and is a major cause of obesity but nobody see’s those effects immediately.
You don’t wake up the next day with chest convulsions or a waistline five sizes bigger unless you eat like Matt Stonie.
Watching excessive amounts of porn can, over time, lower dopamine levels leading to depression, anxiety, and loss of desire for real women. That probably won’t happen overnight though.
You probably know that the average person wastes around 10 years or more of their life watching TV but those years won’t be gone yet tomorrow.
Every day is precious. Knowing that both The Compound Effect and the ripple effect are either working for us or against us every day, choose to get it together now!
Giving yourself a bit of health anxiety may actually do you some benefit. You aren’t invincible and time isn’t on your side.
Every day you indulge, you are getting one step closer to that dreaded side effect you’ve heard so much about.
Often times they are irreversible.
Affirmations are something I have been playing around with heavily in the last month.
While they may seem esoteric or voodoo, they have made such an enormous impact in multiple areas of my life I have to share them here.
Essentially, an affirmation is something positive you repeat to yourself. This can be done inside of your head or written down on a piece of paper.
In terms of kicking bad habits, affirmations are immensely powerful.
To use the power of affirmations, simply tell yourself repeatedly that you don’t do (insert habit here).
In a joint scientific study done by University of Houston and Boston College evidence suggested that people who said “I don’t” were much more successful at kicking bad habits than those who said “I can’t”.
Eg. Let’s say you were trying to quit smoking and the craving for a smoke came up. Rather than saying “No I can’t smoke” the study suggests that saying “No I don’t smoke” would yield much better success rates.
Through affirmations, we can take this one step further.
Every day, repeat to yourself: I don’t (insert bad habit here) 10 times.
You can do this as many times as you like. I personally recommend doing this exercise a minimum of three times, preferably upon waking, while feeling cravings, and before bed.
I personally use affirmations throughout my entire day for multiple purposes. In just a few weeks of continual practice, my productivity, willpower, and overall well-being have gone through the roof.
Affirmations have a serious compounding effect. If they work for you when kicking bad habits, consider applying them to other areas of your life.
For more information on affirmations, I highly recommend this article.
Our habits make or break us.
The sooner we can let go of the habits that hinder our growth and well-being, the sooner we can take our lives to the next level.
If you have been unsuccessful at kicking bad habits in the past, keep these tricks handy.
Whether a bad habit has taken control of you, or you just don’t feel good about it, it is more important than you know to make it a thing of the past.
It doesn’t take long to experience change but it does take effort.
How much pain are you willing to feel for a few days? How bad do you want to make a change in your life?
Let’s make today day one of vice-free living and reclaim everything our bad habits are robbing us of.
If you enjoyed this post be sure to check out Man’s Guide to Well-Being: Take Control of Your Mood and Life