Everybody has at least one habit that’s worth ditching, whether it’s over-caffeinating, skipping exercise, excessive spending, smoking, drinking too much, biting fingernails, being on a smartphone 24 hours a day or engaging in gossip. Anything that takes you in the opposite direction of your goals—or doesn’t contribute to your development as a strong, healthy, compassionate person—qualifies as a bad habit.
Why do we keep these destructive habits? Maybe because it’s easier to hang onto them than to make a change. Change, after all, is tough, especially when a bad habit is validated by social norms. Take, for example, gossip. If you work in an environment affected by low morale, gossiping at the water cooler or at happy hour might be a way to blow off steam. But gossiping is a bad habit in part because it never solves the root of the problem, and your words may even come back to haunt you later. Or perhaps you’re struggling with your eating habits. You want to clean up your diet, but your kids’ favorite junk food lures you to the pantry every time. It’s easier to give in to temptation than it is to make a plan to eat healthier, hold yourself accountable and follow through with it.
So how do you change the end to your story? Here are 8 steps to help you write your very own happily ever after by conquering your bad habits.
1. Acknowledge the Bad Habit
Do you really want to change, or did someone just tell you to change? Any change you initiate should primarily be for you. Habits changed for others have a way of returning.
2. Identify Your Triggers
You’re going to have to get introspective, and you can start by keeping a journal. Write down the times when you give in to your bad habit. What’s happening? Can you remove yourself from that situation or otherwise change your setting?
3. Take Action Immediately
Don’t just hope that tomorrow or Monday you’ll have the willpower to say no to cookies and yes to fruit. Set yourself up for success. Throw out the junk food in a place where you can’t retrieve it. Fill your fridge with fresh fruit. Make it easier to make the right choice.
4. Replace the Bad Habit with a Good One
Use happy hour as an example. If you’ve resolved to drink less alcohol but don’t want to give up the opportunity to socialize, suggest grabbing coffee, going to lunch, taking a walk, or taking a painting or cooking class. The drive for personal connection runs deep, and you’ll probably find that most of your friends are agreeable to your suggestions.
5. Turn off Automatic Pilot
Most of us are creatures of habit, and we often don’t put much thought into what we’re doing. For example, maybe you always reach for your phone when you’re sitting at the kitchen table, instead of talking to your spouse. Or perhaps you always sit on the couch after work and channel surf, without ever considering that a walk around the block would be a better way to end your day. Living in the moment is challenging, but with some practice, a constant redirection to the present can open your mind to alternative (and healthier) behavior patterns.
Any change you initiate should primarily be for you.
6. Set Realistic Goals
Decided to cut back on caffeine? Going cold turkey tomorrow morning is a surefire recipe for failure. Be realistic—cut back gradually, one cup at a time. Make changes subtle so they’ll be easy to absorb.
7. Plan for Failure
You’re going to stumble occasionally. No path to success is a straight one. Momentary failure doesn’t equate to forever failure, though, unless you give yourself a license to quit. Brush yourself off, and keep moving forward.
8. Reward Yourself
There are so many ways to reward yourself for honoring your decision to live a healthier life. Get a massage, cue up that movie you’ve been wanting to watch, enjoy an afternoon with a friend or just break your routine and take an evening walk to watch the sunset. You don’t have to spend money, eat something calorie-laden or derail your health and wellness goals to reward yourself. While our cultural norms often seem to equate celebration with alcohol, junk food and spending, you don’t have to join the crowd. There are plenty of treats that, over the long term, will give you greater satisfaction for charting your own course to success.