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Tips On Breaking Bad Habits [Without Discipline Or Willpower]

Tips On Breaking Bad Habits [Without Discipline Or Willpower]
How To Break Bad Habits

Whether you like to admit it or not, we all have habits that we're not 100% proud of.

Some habits can even be detrimental to our growth.

But quitting these bad habits is always easier said than done.

Why is that?

Here's a passage I found on this topic:

"The brain releases dopamine when the reward pathway is activated, and because dopamine release feels very good, the brain and body start seeking more pleasure, more reward and more dopamine. ... As your mind continues to follow that neural pathway, your negative habit pattern becomes ingrained and difficult to break"

Many scientists or doctors you ask will tell you that this is due to the 3 Rs.

  • Reminder - also known as the trigger, is what happens leading up to you doing the bad habit. For example, feeling anxious.
  • Routine - this is the action (response) to the trigger. If the trigger is anxiousness, then the behaviour may be biting your nails. The more you do it, the deeper it's instilled in your brain.
  • Reward - From the passage above, we know that the brain will release dopamine in response to the behaviour (nail-biting) because it is enjoyment or relief to the anxious feeling.

Ever since I was a kid, I've had bad habits - the worst one being sucking my thumb.

This is one I am not proud to say because for many years, I carried on with this habit and it took me a lot of willpower and effort to finally break it.

Today, I have a few other bad habits that drain my time and leave me with fewer hours or less focus than I would like.

These habits are all routed in stress or anxiety.

The biggest one being waking up later than I should whilst the others are nail-biting or (since I have a massive afro) playing with my hair.

Willpower and discipline can only take you so far when it comes to breaking bad habits

"There has to be an easier way to break bad habits, right?"

The simple answer is - yes.

Today, we're going to be talking about action steps you can start taking today in order to break those habits.

These are all things I've done that helped me break some of my bad habits such as gaming or watching Netflix and YouTube all day.

Do you want to break it?

Tips On Breaking Bad Habits [Without Discipline Or Willpower]

The first step to breaking any sort of habit is to first consciously take notice of it.

Many people who have bad habits are completely unaware that they have these habits and so they wouldn't be able to stop them.

If you're on this article, you'll most likely already know that there is a habit you have that you want to break.

My girlfriend's dad is a mental health nurse - sort of like a therapist.

When she finds me biting my nails in many situations, she always tells me to stop.

One day, she asked her dad for advice on breaking these bad habits.

He said that in order to 'break a bad habit, you first need to WANT to break it.'

Willpower and discipline are never strong enough to hold off your brain forever, this is why they are never good long-term strategies.

When we do something, it's because we want to.

Otherwise, we'll eventually fall out of the habit of doing something if we never liked doing it in the first place.

This is very true for breaking habits too.

When I was a die-hard gamer, I played on my PS4 from the beginning of the day to the next morning after midnight.

I started to notice that I raged a lot and was super unhappy even when I did something that I thought I liked.

That's when I slowly started to make the decision that I wanted to stop gaming because I saw the negative impact it had on me mentally and physically.

So first, make the conscious decision to want to stop, then move on to step 2.

Why do you want to break the habit?

Tips On Breaking Bad Habits [Without Discipline Or Willpower]

In business, we're often told that having a strong 'WHY' can be the decider between giving up or pushing forward.

This is true with quitting a bad habit too.

Telling yourself that you want to quit a habit just because you want to quit is not a good enough reason.

Having a strong 'WHY' is a lot more powerful and likely to make your mind want to cooperate with you too.

The reason that you want to quit must be important, valuable, or beneficial to you.

When I wake up in the morning, I have some affirmations on my wall right next to my bed.

When I come downstairs to work or when I'm on my phone, I have something called a vision board set as my wallpapers that reminds me of my business WHYs.

You can follow the same principles for breaking a bad habit.

Take some time - 30 minutes to an hour, and think of the reasons why you want to quit these habits.

Write them down on a piece of paper or make a quick wallpaper on Canva.

Then you can put these papers in places you visit a lot or set the wallpapers on your phone, laptop, or other devices so you're constantly reminded of your WHY.

Identify your trigger

Tips On Breaking Bad Habits [Without Discipline Or Willpower]

Knowing when your habits tend to take place can help you avoid them.

For example, you're going to want to find out:
  • Where does the habit happen?
  • When does the habit happen?
  • What is the event leading up to the habit?
  • What sort of feeling do you have before and after the habit?
In many cases, you may be able to stop doing the habit by taking away the possibility of it happening.

What this means is that if you're a person who eats unhealthy food non-stop, you may stop buying unhealthy food to begin with.

This now means that there is another barrier necessary to cross in order to reengage that bad habit.

Another example: When I feel like I want to play with and pull my hair, I would just put on a hair bonnet and that easily stops the habit from taking place.

When you identify your triggers, you're able to add more resistance between the trigger and the 2nd R - the routine.

Set clear goals

Tips On Breaking Bad Habits [Without Discipline Or Willpower]

Goal setting is extremely important for many things, one being breaking bad habits.

It is not useful if your goal is as simple as 'I'm no longer going to bite my nails.'

This is where SMART goal setting comes in.

SMART stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.

When setting a goal, it must be very specific. The more specific your goal is, the better the chance of reaching it.

Using the example for nail-biting, it should look something like this: 'I want to stop biting my nails when I feel anxious by the end of 2021.' 

The next step is to make sure it is measurable. This means that you'd be able to track any progress being made.

This could be how many days I consecutively didn't bite my nails.

Quitting any bad habit is attainable - as long as you follow the other steps in this guide.

However, by attainable, you want to make sure that the specific goal you're setting is challenging yet possible within the given time frame.

Next, you need to make sure that your goal is realistic. 

Include any small steps or hurdles you may encounter and also layout action steps to beat those too.

Finally, the goal must be time-bound. 

Always set a time on hitting your goal.

Scientifically, if you set a goal with a strict deadline, you'll be more likely to work hard at achieving it.

This is why you should set a strict yet attainable deadline so that you consciously work on reaching it.

Along the way, you're going to fail numerous times.

After all, our brains are some of the most powerful machines in the world.

It is hard to just 'stop' something your mind is so used to doing, and it may even feel uncomfortable.

This is why it's important to accept that you will forget at some points but you should never give up on achieving the goal.

Start with small, gradual milestones, not massive goals.

For example, you could stop biting your nails for a day instead of setting a milestone of stopping for a whole month.

Racking up small wins is a lot more beneficial than massive upfront milestones which may never be reached.
The small wins lead to the larger ones later down the line.

Visualise breaking it

Tips On Breaking Bad Habits [Without Discipline Or Willpower]

I never believed in things such as affirmations or visualisation.

I always thought it's just a way for 'gurus' to sell us a dream and make us feel like we're making progress.

I gave it a shot with no real expectations or benefits.

The impact it has had on me has been very positive.

Although visualising and affirmations alone will never lead to success, it's a large part of it.

As I've mentioned already, our brains are some of the most powerful machines in the world.

Convincing your brain means that you're already almost there - the rest of the battle is just doing what's necessary to cross the finish line.

When we want something, we tend to battle our brains.

This is why people give up, it's because they were never aligned with their minds and their minds always prevailed eventually.

Visualisation and affirmations are a great way to show your mind, consistently, that it is possible to do whatever you're looking to achieve.

One group was to practise shooting free throws daily, the other was to not do anything and the third group were set to visualise themselves shooting free throws.

After 30 days, they tested the progress.

Groups 1 and 3 made virtually the same amount of progress proving that visualisation is a powerful force when used.

So visualise yourself in the event of a bad habit, and then go through and play it out but try to stop yourself from doing it.

Repeated, this can be a very strong way to break the habit.

Replace it with another habit

Tips On Breaking Bad Habits [Without Discipline Or Willpower]

'Energy cannot be created not destroyed, only transferred.'

Breaking a habit is like trying to create energy - you can't do it.

It's a lot easier to replace the habit with a more desirable habit.

For example, when I stopped gaming and watching videos all day, I replaced this bad habit with work and business.

Instead of being on the PS4 all day, I now work towards building a future for myself and those around me instead.

The habit of playing PS4 was replaced completely by working on a business.

After all, a successful business has much more fulfilment than a successful game on PS4.

Instead of trying to stop a bad habit completely, just change the routine that is followed by the reminder (trigger).

Sometimes, when I feel stressed or anxious about the future, instead of sitting down and stressing, or biting my nails, I would go out for a walk and listen to a podcast.

You can either replace it with a good habit, or replace it with a bad habit.

The choice is completely yours to make.

Reward yourself for success 

Tips On Breaking Bad Habits [Without Discipline Or Willpower]

Your brain releases dopamine when it feels rewarded (the 3rd R).

When I was playing PS4, I would always get a rush of dopamine in a good Call of Duty game, for example.

This is why it was so hard to stop doing it.

It's important to replace that feeling of enjoyment with a feeling of guilt, making the routine less fulfilling.

Instead, you want to make the good habits lead to enjoyment and fulfilment so that your brain feels rewarded for doing something good.

When you set a new habit, you'll want to reward yourself and feel proud for making small progress.

This will keep you on the ball and in the habit of building up a routine of good habits rather than bad ones.

Know that every little step made in the right direction is an improvement from before.

Like I said, small wins lead to larger ones down the line.

So keep rewarding yourself - even if it's a bit of positive self-talk so that you feel motivated to keep going.

These are the 7 steps to breaking a bad habit and replacing it with a good one.

Have you learnt anything new in this article?

Let me know below.

Till next time,


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