We all have our vices and if we didn’t, life might be very boring. But some habits are less damaging than others – the trick is to separate indulgent pleasures from harmful hindrances. While naughty diversions are fun and playful, bad habits can become vehicles of destruction, so try to break away from behaviours that cause more misery than happiness.
Weigh up your options
Every bad habit has a pay-off, whether it helps you relax, satisfies a craving, relieves boredom or makes you feel more confident in social situations. But is the pay-off of a particular vice worth the toll it takes on your health/happiness/work/relationship/life in general? The first step is to be cognisant of your habits and honest with yourself about how they affect you – remember denial is the first stage of addiction! If you recognise that one or more is holding you back from achieving your goals, you need to decide how badly you want that goal and whether you’re prepared to sacrifice it for the enjoyment you get from a bad behaviour.
While eliminating one bad habit at a time might seem more attainable than making multiple changes to your lifestyle, recent research by the Baylor College of Medicine suggests you may have more success if you tackle associated vices together. So if you’re a sucker for that morning cup of coffee and cigarette, consider ruling them both out and going for a run as an alternative. Or if you tend to guzzle fast food in front of endless sitcoms, take a break from both the TV and the junk and whip up a healthy home-cooked meal instead.
Change your routine or environment
Habits frequently become entrenched in our daily lives – after a while, taking an hourly cigarette break, or having a few glasses of whisky after work, becomes a reflex reaction. Breaking from your normal routine can go a long way towards helping you break a habit, so if you’re serious about changing your behaviour, identify how it’s influenced by your life patterns and try changing those instead. For instance, if you’re tempted to pick up a bottle of wine every time you drive past the bottle store on your way back from work, or you tend to have a few too many tipples when you see a certain friend, take a different route home, or limit the time spent with your partner in crime. Alternatively, choose an opportune time to quit booze – for example when you’ve just moved house or changed jobs.
Write it down
Making a written commitment to kicking a harmful habit and keeping a progress journal can be helpful, says psychologist James Claiborn. ‘Write out a list of the pros and cons of this behaviour and keep a record of when you do it. Measurement of anything tends to change it and makes people much more aware in the first place.’
Stick with it
Many people support the idea that an entrenched behaviour takes 28 days to change, while others think a period of 21 or 30 days is the golden ticket. Just how long it takes to develop new neural pathways that help to break a habit is not set in stone and is likely to vary amongst individuals. But most experts agree that it takes time to establish a new routine and for habit-associated cravings to subside – so stick with it. Perseverance is the path to success.
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