We all struggle with bad habits in our life. Some are dark and scary and some are merely frustrating.
You’ll be offered lots of advice from other places:
- Figure out the triggers – While we can do plenty to keep stress out of our life, there will always be triggers in our life in the forms of clients and kids that can set us off. Identifying this did me absolutely no good.
- Try really hard for 30 days – This has got to be the worst. The mere fact that it’s a habit that I want to quit implies that I can’t control myself. Trying really hard only produces guilt when I inevitably fail, which helps no one.
- Accountability – People lie. To themselves and to others. Especially when they feel ashamed. I’ve found having accountability works until you fail after a long stretch of doing good. Then I don’t want to admit that I’ve failed.
Two and a half years ago when I quit my job to run Out:think full time, I had no idea that amount of bad habits I had. It’s amazing how surfing YouTube for three hours a day has a different impact when you’re paycheck isn’t guaranteed anymore.
While wasting time online is relatively harmless, I’ve also battled and defeated darker habits in my life with the process I explain below.
The problem with all of the above advice is that you’re focusing on the problem. You need to focus on what you’re life would be like without your bad habit.
Have you ever watched a tight rope walker? They never look down. Their eyes are always on the end of the rope. Looking down is death.
All of the solutions I listed above are ways of “looking down” at your current situation. Looking down is death.
This process for breaking bad habits keeps your eye on the benefits of breaking the bad habit. If you follow it, you’ll quickly stop caring whether you break the bad habit or not. The end become the focus instead of the process that gets you there and before you realize it, you’ll make it to the other side.
1. Decide that it’s acceptable to fail
You have to do this first. You have to believe it. No more beating up on yourself. No more wishing it would just go away. You’ve got a problem and you’re taking steps to deal with it. No more guilt.
You are going to fail. A lot. And it’s ok.
It’s been drilled into our collective heads that we need to move fast on everything in life and once we’ve started something it needs to move as quickly as possible. If you’ve developed a bad habit over a long span of time, it’s going to take a long time to break it.
Let the guilt go.
2. Decide that you are going to stop trying to break the bad habit
I’m assuming by now you’ve already tried really really hard to stop. It’s normal but it’s how our bodies run. For this process to work you have to give up on trying to stop from sheer will power. It’s time to try something different.
3. Write down a list of all the negative results of your bad habit
Be specific and thorough. Write down every possible way this bad habit is has a negative impact on your life. Here’s part of my list from wasting time instead of working:
- I don’t make money which means I can’t pay my bills
- I have to make up the time later, which means time away from my kids. i.e. I traded playing with my son for watching dumb internet videos.
- I have to make up the time later, which means time away from my wife which causes a strain on our relationship.
- I fill my head with useless information.
- I come home feeling stupid and worthless.
This is not about guilt. We took care of the guilt in #1. This is about having clarity on your situation. Once this list is written down, move on to #4.
4. Write down a list of all of the positive things that will be added to your life once your break this habit
Again, be specific and thorough. Obviously most of these will be the antithesis of what you wrote in #2 but this step is still very important. Here’s part of my list:
- I will follow through on my work which means I will get paid and have money in the bank.
- I will be able to come home on time or early and spend time with my kids.
- I will be able to come home on time or early and spend time with my wife.
- I will come home with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
These are the goals we want to focus on. This is what we really want. It’s not really about the bad habit. It’s about what we are missing out on because of it.
5. Spend 10 minutes every morning meditating on the first four steps
- Every morning before your day starts, take ten minutes to be still and quiet.
- Remind yourself that today you will probably fail and that’s ok.
- Remind yourself that you’re done trying to break the bad habit. You’re trusting the process.
- Thoughtfully meditate over your lists from steps #3 and #4.
- Live your life.
Once you remove the stress and guilt you constantly place on yourself to break your bad habit and begin focusing on the positive results, your patterns will begin to change. It will happen slowly and it will be surprising, but it will work.