Think Differently To Break Bad Habits

Smoke 1The best strategy to break a bad habit such as smoking, eating too much, drinking excessively, gambling, shopping excessively, and so forth is to not develop the habit in the first place! I know…easier said than done but prevention is really the very best way to avoid the formation of bad habits. As problematic habits unfold nipping them in the bud in the spirit of prevention is so very important if you can do it.  by Thomas G. Plante

However, for so many people the train has already left the station and the bad habit is now fully formed and causing all sorts of troubles and distress. So now what? What do you do once these habits have solidified? Most people rely on willpower and motivation. This is a big mistake in my view since willpower and motivation vacillate and are totally unreliable day-to-day and over time. We really need to let go of the use of willpower and motivation to deal with long-standing bad habits. It just doesn’t work for the long-term. Rather, we should use social engineering which is a much better strategy for sure. Basically, can you create an environment for yourself that forces you to change behavior for the better? Can you socially engineer your bad habits out of existence?

Let’s take a few examples. Perhaps you are a couch potato and don’t exercise much if at all. If you get an active and fairly large dog that needs to get walks in everyday it will force you to take lots and lots of walks. If you struggle with eating too many problem foods at home you can work to keep the challenging food items out of the house. If you struggle with internet pornography use you can put filters on your computer. None of these solutions are perfect or easy but if you put enough barriers in place (especially those that you can’t dismantle very easily) you are likely to make good progress over time on your bad habits.

The problem with changing bad habits for most people is that they rely way too much on motivation and will power when they should be focusing more on prevention and social engineering strategies.

So, what do you think?

7 thoughts on “Think Differently To Break Bad Habits

  1. but then u need willpower and motivation to create barriers for your bad habits…
    it cant be ignored…..its an imp ingredient to overcome your problems

  2. For what it’s worth I shall state my view – I am a smoker (sad but true) I gave up some years back because I wanted too and I had the willpower and motivation to do so. I did it cold turkey no tablets, no gum, no prescribed medication. I gave up for 7 years, then divorce, life changes etc. and I started again. I am not a heavy smoker but to the world of non smokers whom classify us as lepers a smoker, heavy or not is something that shouldn’t be tolerated. However I digress slightly. I do wish to give up, but I am not ready yet. I have to have the strength, willpower and motivation to do so and when that has arrived I will be able to. Yes changing or creating a different environment helps the process. ie: Do not reach for a cigarette after that coffee, or after that meal, or when your out having a drink, removing oneself from certain situations which encourage your habits is logical, but you still will socialise, eat and have coffee and that is where the willpower and motivation come in.
    Sadly we aren’t all perfect living in a perfect world with no bad habits or vices. One day hopefully soon when that willpower/motivational thoughts hit me on the head as they did in the past I shall stop. I could have prevented myself from smoking by simply not buying them…but that was the choice that I made.

  3. I agree. I also believe that these behaviors develop as coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety in our life, whether covert or overt. At some point, the behaviors will return or change to a different behavior if the anxiety is ignored. As a behavior switcher (food, sex, shopping, television) I know from experience.

    Learning healthy coping strategies has been immensely helpful to me. It never even occurred to me that I had a choice to not be anxiety-ridden 24/7 until a therapist showed me how (without reliance on pharmaceuticals.)

  4. I agree, and I like your approach that acknowledges the fragility of willpower. Most of us just spend a lot of time feeling guilty that we don’t have more character instead of just doing what might help.

  5. I agree that willpower and motivation are not reliable ways to change bad habits or addictions. If motivation comes into play at all, it’s motivation to change your life in such a way that you minimize or eliminate the opportunities to engage in whatever behaviour you’re trying to kick. You have to choose to change things up so that you’re forced out of your destructive comfort zone to begin to create a new and constructive comfort zone. I know the success of this approach firsthand because that’s how I was able to start and eventually conquer the very long process of overcoming a seven year battle with anorexia nervosa in my thirties. It definitely wasn’t easy but nothing worth achieving ever is.

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