Bad habits come about by two methods: we actively choose them (knowing or not knowing they are bad), or come about as a method of avoiding something that we fear or otherwise don’t want to do.
These type of habits will always have negative connotations to the success and happiness in our lives, but their impact might not always be so obvious. Putting off meeting your friends because you’re suffering from social anxiety (rather than dealing with it) won’t have a huge impact in the short-term, but in the long term they’ll stop considering you a friend at all.
You also might be buried under a mountain of bad habits. If you’ve spent most of your life not doing things you’re afraid of, or don’t know how to do, you’re going to have developed a very limited perspective. If your life outside of work don’t involve anything fulfilling, even just socialising, then you have weighed yourself down with too many bad habits.
The key method to start dealing with bad habits is to first acknowledge them
Acknowledging bad habits
You will never be able to know all your bad habits just by sitting down and thinking about it for half an hour. Overtime, you will gain an understanding for what they really are. Especially if you have had those habits for years, realising they are bad is going to take a long time. You’ll often need others to help you spot them.
So let’s try and find one. Look at the small bad habits in your life. These are the things you always feel slightly shitty about doing. It might be not making your bed in the morning, taking ages to respond to a friend’s message, ordering in takeaway too often instead of cooking.
Once you’ve found one – and I do mean just the one – let’s go about dealing with it.
Dealing with a bad habit
For the purposes of demonstration, I’m going to pick something really basic – brushing your teeth twice a day. In this case I’m brushing once a day, and for a pretty short amount of time at that.
There are two methods here that will help – positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.
Let’s start with positive. Everytime you brush your teeth, think about how it makes you feel. You should feel just a bit better about yourself – cleaner, you can go out and see people etc. You should feel more confident.
With that, you should also take an action. After brushing your teeth, go for a short walk, or go to the shops and grab yourself something you like. This will make you associate reward with brushing your teeth. After a while, you need to stop doing this – and it will be fairly easy to do so, once you’re into the habit of brushing.
The other method to help is negative reinforcement. Realise how rubbish you feel after not brushing your teeth – lazy, unhygenic, whatever feeling or emotion you associate with it. I don’t feel you need to do a punishment action for something like this, but realise what it restricts you from doing – or from doing with more confidence.
The key, obviously, is maintaining this change in habit
Tips to maintain change
- Realise habit change is not easy. Habit change is a windy road. For some smaller bits, the change will be easier. For harder pieces it will take much longer. When I was trying to break out of the habit of playing video games for 5+ hours a day (when I should have been looking for a job) it took me about 6 months. And the day before I stopped? I played 7 hours. As long as you are maintaining your methods where you make your good habits feel good and your bad habits feel bad then you will get to the point you want to
- If you’re going to do a few habit changes at the same time, make them related in some way. Find what relates them – two classic categories are laziness and social anxiety. By dealing with a few things at once, you’ll feel like you’re making much quicker progress at dealing with that character trait – which is ultimately what habit change is trying to do. There’s no point making your bed every morning if you’re only getting up 10 minutes before you have to login for work. Don’t start every habit change the same day, but begin them all within a few weeks of each other. When I started job hunting again, I began exercising again, wearing proper clothes during the day, keeping my job hunt to 9-5 and reading in the evening. I was trying to create a routine, and so establish myself as someone who could be in work and get a job
- Use tools to help you. Whether it’s a calendar, a to do list, or a diary, work out a way where you can cheer yourself on in breaking old habits. I wrote in a diary regularly while I was trying to do things to deal with some social anxiety that had built up over the covid lockdown. With overcoming anxiety, I knew it couldn’t just be about building the habit but also about realising that things were improving as I knew it would take at least six months to improve. It also is now something great for me to refer back to and see how I got myself out of that state.
- If you can, replace the bad habit with something good. Don’t just stop watching shitty tv every night and either a) do nothing or b) replace it with going out and getting drunk. Find a habit which gets you to where you want to go next, even if it’s small. Or spend time on some of the things you already love
Hopefully that’s been helpful. My next article I’ll publish on Sunday and will go more in-depth on acknowledging what your bad habits are.