At the beginning of the month, I decided to challenge myself to a full month of blogging. There were a lot of reasons I wanted to do this. I wanted to see how capable I was of creating a constant stream of content, even on a whim. I wanted to see how much passion I truly had for blogging and writing. And really, I wanted to push myself to do more.
You see, I’ve always been one to go easy on myself and give myself breaks, even in moments where I may have needed a push. I’m not great at follow through. Almost everything I tell myself I have to do falls to the side and I always end up back in the same place: bored on the couch watching the same TV show for the millionth time.
I’m no stranger to bad habits and routines. I’ve been a smoker, a drinker, an avid shopper, etc. Those little things that can help you slip out of your reality for a moment are really hard to kick. It takes a lot of effort an determination to find a way to let go of bad habits and make a better life for yourself.
So I have some experience in letting go of bad habits and making some better ones for myself. This challenge, that I am currently completing as I write this post, was one of those habit kickers that I needed to push myself to meet my full potential. It was a way for me to get out of a rut and drudge through a little drudgery to get to a place where I was doing something that I could be proud of.
Bad habits come in all shapes and sizes. From major drug addictions to food addictions to TV or video games. Now, I’m not about to say that if you have a major, debilitating addiction this will help you outright in turning things around. But if you’re at the point of recognizing you can do more and it’s time to make a change, these are some tips on how to kick the habits that are holding you back.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
THIS IS NOT AN OVERNIGHT PROCESS
You have to keep in mind that just adding a habit to your day takes at least 30 days to get familiar with and even longer to make it a second nature activity. Beyond that, removing a bad habit from your life is almost harder to accomplish and takes a while to really overcome. It’s going to be a pretty persistent struggle for at least 2 weeks to a month and it’s definitely possible that no matter how long it’s been since you let go of a habit, you’ll still find yourself craving it. So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t feel free of a habit right away, if ever. The point is that you’re trying which is really all that matters.
YOU’LL PROBABLY SLIP
Or maybe you won’t. If you don’t fall back into your bad habit, at least a little bit, you are a super human and you should be very proud of yourself (I’m being serious but there’s no way to type that without it looking sarcastic). If you do slip, that doesn’t mean there’s no hope and it doesn't mean you have to start over. It just means you’re a human who can’t fight their own desires 24/7 which is extremely normal. If you fall back into old habits, just reevaluate and try again.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE ALL OR NOTHING
This is a choice you have to trust yourself to make. For some, kicking a bad habit just means cutting back and having rules. For others, it means having a pretend restraining order against something in order to prevent it from taking over. Sometimes it means taking as much time as you need away from something until you feel you can be responsible with it. This is where you can decide what will help you the most. I know for me, if I decide to quit anything cold turkey, I will binge it so hard and never turn back. So I just have to limit my intake in order to help myself make more responsible choices.
DON’T TAKE THEM ALL ON AT ONCE
I would say most of us have many bad habits, big and small. We may even continue to pick up bad habits through our life time. Really, the job of becoming a better human is never done. So don’t try and take on all of your bad habits at once. Just do one at a time. It may feel like you’ll be stuck in your bad habits forever if you don’t take them all on at once, but you’ll be much more effective if you let go of one at a time. You may even find that once you start letting go of bad habits, the rest of them will become a little easier to remove from your life.
LETTING GO OF BAD HABITS
FIGURE OUT WHY IT’S A BAD HABIT
This is the best way to find your motivation to let it go. There’s a few ways to get to the route of a bad habit to find the real, deep down source.
Is it a physical or emotion dependency? Or maybe both?
What does it make you feel when you partake in the bad habit?
What are you missing when you don’t have it?
So as an example: cigarettes. A classic bad habit. When I was smoking cigarettes regularly, it was a physical dependency that was exacerbated by emotions. It was like a pacifier for me anytime I was upset. It was my guaranteed 5-10 minutes of dealing with life whenever I needed a break. It made me feel calm and confident when I’d have a cigarette and when I didn’t have one, it became hard for me to process whatever was going on around me.
I’ve also got shopping as a bad habit. It’s totally emotional. When I’m feeling insecure or upset or I want to reinvent myself, buying something new is a way for me to fill whatever void I’ve found to make me better as a person. A new shirt will make me look better when I’m feeling bad about my physical appearance. A new home item can make me feel capable to take on whatever thing I’ve decided I need to get into. If I can’t buy the new thing to make myself feel better, I get stuck in a ball of shame because I’m not getting the satisfaction of improving myself or my surroundings with something new.
So yes, understanding these things has really helped me to get to the route of the habit and find other ways to cope with whatever cigarettes or shopping was “solving.”
FIND YOUR TRIGGERS
There’s always that thing that happens that leaves you craving your bad habit. Whether it’s simply morning time or feeling stuck and needing a change. There are so many things that can become triggers for bad habits. It can be simply having a routine that includes your bad habit to feelings or occurrences that you may be less aware of or ready for. There are even some bad habits that trigger other bad habits.
TV for me is definitely a habit with triggers. Usually as soon as I put my son down to sleep, I sit down and turn on the TV without even thinking (which then leads to me binge eating really unhealthy food, another bad habit). It’s become a very unproductive part of my routine that seemed so natural and innocent that I didn’t realize how harmful it really was for me. Giving into these little trigger made me feel like I had no time. No time for writing, reading, drawing, anything really. No time for my husband and no time for myself. There became a huge divide in my life all because I’d simply sit down and watch TV during nap times rather than engage in the world around me.
Drinking on the other hand, my trigger was, I don’t know… 3 o’clock? It was emotionally numbing at a time in my life when I really didn’t want to feel anything so feeling anything was a trigger. It took over my afternoons and nights (and then mornings and early afternoons if you want to count the awesome hangover I had nearly every day). The triggers that made this become regular were not ones that I could predict. Sometimes it wasn’t even anything that happened to me, but within me. It made it very difficult to catch the triggers because they weren’t as obvious as putting a baby to sleep (don’t worry, I kicked this habit before I even got pregnant with my son).
So identifying the triggers may be difficult, but it’s important to take the time. Sometimes understanding the route of the habit can help you find the triggers too.
REPLACE THE HABIT
So once you’ve gotten to know your habit really well, I’ve found it much easier to kick the habit by replacing it with a better one.
That was this challenge for me. Rather than sitting down and watching TV the minute I put my son down for a nap, I would write a blog post. At the beginning of the month, I’d usually rush through the post and then sit down for an episode or two. But as the month has progressed, my writing has triggered more productivity to where somedays, I don’t turn the TV on at all.
Cigarettes on the other hand, that was a more difficult one. A typical day was: wake up, have a cigarette. Make coffee, have a cigarette. Have a cigarette on my way to work. Have a cigarette after work. Basically, as soon as one activity was done, I’d have a smoke break and then move onto the next thing. So pretty much my whole day was a trigger.
When you find you spend the majority of a day on something, it may be worth it to change your routine all together. I pretty much gone through and added better habits throughout my day one thing at a time. It didn’t happen all at once, but little by little, I created a routine that gives me a little more of what I need everyday which leaves me wanting my bad habits a lot less.
I started by simply waking up and making my bed. This led to brushing my teeth which led to washing my face and getting dressed and then one day, I was eating breakfast without a single cigarette in sight. Waking up triggered a new, much more productive habit.
But then there was the after breakfast TV that I needed to get rid of. So instead, finishing breakfast became a trigger to clean up the dishes and the table which led to cleaning the house which led to me actually doing the necessary chores to keep a house running that I never did before.
But then the after-I-put-my-son-to-bed TV. The, from 6:30 - 10 TV that I really didn’t need. The, I just didn’t know better than to just turn the TV on, TV. Well, instead I’d take a bath. But I got bored in the bath so I started reading which means I actually read books now. And then, to avoid the after bath TV, I added a podcast hour with my husband to give us some quality time to learn something fun together. And after that, after the whole day is done, I can indulge in a little TV before bed which I think is totally reasonable and doesn’t make me feel guilty at all.
So if you’re having trouble establishing your triggers or kicking your habits, just take a look at your day. Start with one habit to add when you wake up and let it work as a domino effect on your day. If you’re diligent and active in making this work, eventually you’ll finish a whole day and realize you didn’t even think about your bad habit.
Again, it’s not an over night process. Most of my habits took me years and a major life change to overcome. The important thing is that you try. As long as you’re trying, you’re doing something right.