How to Break Bad Habits Permanently | Freedom of Choice
Breaking bad habits is more difficult than forming a new one.
I have done my share of research to break bad habits of mine. I had many and still, I have a lot.
But, what is a bad habit? How it is formed and how to break it?
There are many definitions of bad habits.
According to Wikipedia, a bad habit is a negative behavior pattern.
Others define a bad habit as a habitual behavior that is detrimental to one’s physical and mental health.
I want to put forward a different definition, but the overall meaning will be the same.
“A bad habit is something that keeps us away from seeking reality.”
The reality demands us to finish our work, but instead of working, we procrastinate.
Reality demands us to eat healthily and do physical workouts, but instead of that we smoke and eat fast food.
Reality demands us to be honest in our relationships, but instead of that, we lie.
This article contains 8 steps to break any bad habit you want and free yourself from the cycle of repeating the same bad behavior over and over again.
You can’t break a bad habit if you don’t realize you have one in the first place.
Most of us cover our bad habits with excuses.
A small conversation took place between me and my friend.
“I don’t have a habit of smoking. I can quit anytime I want.
Why don’t you?
Because smoking is okay for me. It is not causing any harm.
What about stamina and coughing?
It happens sometimes but If I take care of my health, it will go away in a day.
Why don’t you take care of your health?
Because I am too busy with my life. I have high work pressure.
What about lying to your wife that you quit smoking?
She will understand and besides keeping myself cool, I need to smoke.
So, you are dependent on smoking?
I am not, I can quit anytime I want.
What about your skin condition, chances of having cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease, diabetes, bronchitis…
Hey, wait man. You don’t need to remind me of everything smoke causes. I know it already.
And you still smoke?
Yes, I do. Because people will die someday, some way or other. What difference does it make? I am already under so much stress in life. I don’t want to discuss it anymore.
So, to escape your problem, you seek temporary relief which will cause more problem?”
F*ck you man… f*ck you.”
The reality is often bitter, but once you start facing it, taking responsibility according to the demands of reality, life becomes much easier and happier.
To break a bad habit, first, we need to acknowledge that we have one.
2. The cloudiness of consequences
We may know the consequences of a bad habit, but these consequences are not clear in our heads.
Moreover, there are two types of consequences: positive and negative.
The consequences of following a bad habit and the consequences of not following a bad habit.
I had a bad habit of playing excessive video games.
So, one day I made a list of all the negative consequences of playing excessive video games on a piece of paper.
The list goes like this:
- Losing interest in other activities, especially the things I used to love.
- Once I cannot do what I loved, I cannot be happy in my life.
- My relationships are going bad because I cannot feel love. Video games have imbalanced my dopamine and other brain chemicals, and because of which I feel numb to emotions.
- My willpower has reduced and I am becoming a slave to my impulses.
- My social anxiety is increasing everyday and the only happiness I feel is from playing video games and interacting with my online friends.
The list goes on like this for another 10 to 15 points.
Once I finished the negative consequences of playing excessive video games, I started writing the positive consequences of quitting video games.
- My interest in my work will return.
- I will become much happier and enjoy doing things that I despised before.
- My relationships will become better because I can start feeling love again.
- I will complete my novel and publish it.
- I will have more self-confidence and my willpower will increase.
Again, the list goes for another 10-15 points.
After completing both the lists, I selected only 5 points from each list, which are most important to me.
This list of 5 negatives and 5 positives is going to help us to proceed further in our journey to quit bad habits for good.
3. Welcoming the temptation
Certainly, if you have a bad habit, then you have urges to perform the bad habit after regular intervals.
Most of us live our life on autopilot. We don’t know when temptation hits us and when we are performing an activity without our awareness.
For example, perhaps you have a bad habit of watching pornography when you are under stress.
Maybe, your boss has given you a mountain of work which will definitely take the whole night.
You had plans to watch the football match but now you are stuck with this impossible task.
So, without realizing you are viewing pornography because it makes you feel better for the short term.
You know this is not the solution to face your tasks, but instead, your habituated brain makes it feel like this is a must.
But, if you develop self-awareness, you will realize how your subconscious brain is forcing you to view pornography when you are stressed.
After realizing your urges, the next big mistake we make is resisting the urges. You feel guilty, ashamed of your urges and force your willpower to resist them as much as possible.
Let me tell you something, this method doesn’t work, because sooner or later you will eventually fail and more remorse and self-loathe will develop inside you.
Guilt and shame will always weaken your willpower and motivation.
I know what you are thinking. If you don’t resist the temptation then what else can you do to quit your bad habit.
To quit or break a bad habit, you don’t need to resist the temptation, rather welcome it.
Having a strong temptation for a bad habit is normal. There is nothing to be ashamed of.
If you are a human being, not an alien, then you will definitely feel the pull.
This is biology and you can do nothing about it.
When temptation hits you, welcome it, acknowledge it and tell yourself that this is normal and there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Feel the temptation, experience the pull of your mind.
Does it make you feel good, or does it make you feel weak?
Once, you welcome the temptation without fighting it, you can proceed to the next step.
4. Freedom of choice
You are always free to choose.
In the direst situation of life, you will still have a choice.
What matters is the strength to choose.
Once you welcome the temptation, you will have three choices to choose your actions regarding your temptation.
The first is to give in to your temptation, the second is not to give in and the third is not choosing anything.
If you don’t feel like choosing, you don’t have to choose anything for the moment.
Just lie down and experience the feeling of your urges.
Pretty basic and it is as simple as that.
But, in the case of choosing an action, we don’t feel like we have the power to choose.
We are so exhausted in quitting our bad habits, that we don’t feel we have any power left within us.
But, we all have unlimited power within us.
The potential of this human brain is beyond our imagination. The only difference is that we don’t know it yet.
This is what you can do for the rest of your life to break any bad habits.
Choose only for the moment.
Let me explain this in detail in the next point.
5. Choose for the moment
A person who has already failed to break his bad habits despite several tries, and again makes a long-term commitment of quitting the bad habit for good is like taking a nail out from a wall with his bare fingers.
If we are so good with commitment, perhaps we don’t need to read this article.
In this stage of our life, we don’t trust ourselves. There is no self-respect.
When there is no self-respect, there is no self-discipline.
Without self-discipline, we cannot break a bad habit.
So, what can we do in this stage of life?
We need to choose only for the moment and keep all the options open for the future.
Let’s understand this with an example:
My friend Roy wants to quit smoking. He tried several times to quit, but he failed sooner or later.
He used all the techniques, like removing all the cues or triggers, meditation, group therapy, but still he failed.
He just couldn’t stop himself from smoking.
Once he learned about the freedom of choice, he started using it.
He only chooses not to smoke only for this moment and keeping all the options open in the future.
Maybe the next time, when the urge hits him, he may or may not smoke.
That depends on the future, not now.
For now, he chooses not to smoke.
In the beginning, this concept of freedom of choice seems hard to understand. But, once he starts applying it on a daily basis, his power to choose becomes stronger.
Of course, meditation, cues help in quitting your bad habit, but meditation needs time to master and you cannot escape from all the cues.
The cues are everywhere.
The cue may be a certain time of the day, the cue may be a plastic bag that represents the upper cover of a cigarette.
You cannot run away from your triggers, nor you can divert them for long.
The only solution is to face your triggers.
Remember the 5 consequences you selected for following and not following your bad habits.
It’s time to use them.
To help you choose for the moment, you need to visualize the 5 positive outcomes of not following the consequences.
Yes, you need to focus on the positives, because the positives will give you hope and strength at the beginning of your journey.
Use the negatives after you start feeling good about yourself and have significantly improved in your journey of breaking your bad habit.
You may ask, why do we need to remind ourselves of the negatives after advancing in our journey?
Because we tend to forget the situations we were in because of our bad habits after a considerable amount of progress.
Time heals everything, even the deepest wound, but sometimes some wounds should be reminded to help us progress in our journey.
This is what Roy did:
1.He felt the urge to smoke. Without resisting the urge he told himself that this is normal and there is nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty of it.
Moreover, this has nothing to do with willpower and motivation, because he never utilized them in the proper way.
Shame and guilt always affected his will and motivation.
2. Once he welcomes the urge, he realizes he is free to choose any action he likes for the moment. He can smoke the next time or may not, who knows.
He will always have his choices.
He also has the choice of not choosing anything. He can simply lie on the bed and experience the temptation. Because once he did this, the temptation dies automatically after some time.
3. He visualizes the 5 positive outcomes of not smoking. This gives him the strength to choose an action.
He also noticed the temptation he felt has disappeared for the moment.
Once Roy did this practice for the first time, he felt good about himself. He felt the power within himself to choose anything he likes.
He can shift his life in any way he likes because he is not a slave to his impulses.
7. Rewiring your brain
Our brain is not fixed. It is physically changing every day, every moment.
When we perform a new task or repeat an old activity, new neural pathways grow, and old neural pathways get strengthened respectively.
The stronger the neural pathways are, the better you are at that activity.
The opposite is also true, if the neural pathways regarding a certain activity are weak, your skills in that activity are also weak.
For example, the neural pathways for playing guitar of a professional guitarist are far stronger than of an amateur.
Therefore, a person who practices ‘power to choose’ every time has stronger neural pathways of conscious living and choosing than a person who is just starting in breaking bad habits.
It is all about practice.
The more you practice, the better you will become at it.
There will come a time when you will control all your actions according to your will.
Emotions and impulses will not run your life, you will do what reality demands, and this will lead to success and happiness.
But, that stage will not be easy to obtain.
To break a bad habit demands patience. Having a strong bad habit means having a strong neural pathway in your brain.
Once you stop repeating the same behavior, your neural pathways start to shrink and become dormant over time.
Through, the pathways never disappear, but the pull or in other words, the temptation becomes weaker over time.
Just imagine, if you stop driving for a few years and have to learn to drive all over again.
Practice the above technique, again and again, the more you practice the better.
This means the more temptation you will feel, the more you can practice.
Hence, the temptation is a good thing, it makes us better.
8. The three mistakes to be aware of.
Avoiding the temptation
When we are triggered to perform our bad habit, most of us try to avoid it, rather than facing it.
We don’t want to think about it, we don’t want to talk about it or try our best to hide all the cues that can trigger our bad habits.
You cannot avoid your bad habits. It is inside you and in some way or another, you will fail with this strategy.
Diverting the temptation
One more strategy people use is to divert their minds once they feel the trigger to perform a bad habit.
Perhaps you have a bad habit of eating junk food everytime the evening approaches.
In the name of snacks, you devour yourself into fried chicken, hotdogs, burgers, etc. and one day you decided enough is enough, because you are not happy with your physique.
So, instead of dealing with the temptation directly, you decided to divert your mind to play video games instead of going out and eating.
At least, that will keep you busy.
It did keep you busy and for a long time you didn’t eat any junk food, but guess what?
One day there was no electricity and you just sit there in your room, craving to play video games, and this uneasy feeling is unbearable.
So, the next best thing your brain can think of is junk food to make you happy, and before you even realized what happened, you are out there eating junk food more than before because you never learned to deal with the temptation in the first place.
Suppressing your temptation is the worst mistake anyone can do.
No one likes to be caged, neither our brain.
Once you suppress your temptation, the rebel inside you wakes up and creates an even stronger temptation to break the bars.
A common example can be seen with your crushes.
The more you suppress your emotions towards someone, the more you feel about them. The more you try to create distance from someone you like, the stronger your emotions get.
Instead of suppressing, welcome it as mentioned above.
If you have to take one point from the whole article to break bad habits is self-awareness.
Why do we do what we do?
Once you are aware of your actions, you can break any bad habit you want or build any new habit you like.
Running our life on impulses is a sure way to degrade our life everyday.
But, how can you have self-awareness? How can you live consciously?
The art of living consciously is mindfulness mediation and practice.
If you are aware of mindfulness mediation, then you probably know what conscious living is.
On the other hand, if you don’t know what mindfulness meditation is, you don’t know what consciousness is in the first place.
People think meditation is to calm your mind and be in a place where there are total silence and tranquility.
Also, they think you have to concentrate your mind to a point and be there in that infinite place and float in the air, etc.
If you don’t know what something is, we can just make assumptions with the little knowledge we have from the surroundings.
The best way to learn something is by assuming that we don’t know anything about it.
In simple, mindfulness meditation is living moment by moment without judging, because we only have moments to live.