A simple strategy for breaking bad habits
Humans are creatures of habit. Shortcuts and the stuff that comfort zones are made of. We buy our coffee from the same cafe every day because we know it is good. We leave our keys in the same place each night so we can find them in the morning without turning the house upside down.
But for the same reason, we develop habits like leaving our clean laundry in baskets next to the wardrobe, because at least then we know where our favourite clean clothes are. Or add a side of banana bread to our coffee order each morning because banana bread is delicious!
Habits aren’t a bad thing when they make life easier, simpler, more streamlined. But when those habits lead you down a path that you aren’t so happy with, changing them, especially when they have been formed over a lifetime, is easier said than done.
So what do you do? Commit to a sweeping resolution to make a huge change in your life? Go cold turkey with your habits and hope for the best? Always promise yourself you will start fresh tomorrow? This never, or rarely ever, works and you know it. How about you try this simple strategy for breaking bad habits instead…
Pick just one habit
I looked around my house and knew something had to change. I have always been messy but I love having order around me. Go figure! No matter how hard I tried to keep the house tidy, I would fall back into the same loops of behaviour.
In my previous attempts to transform my messy house, I had always gone in all guns blazing, thinking that if I could just get the whole house clean, I would be able to keep it that way. What I wasn’t recognising was the habits that I had developed over time that would stand in my way. So, rather than attempting to tackle the whole house all at once, I picked one room, the kitchen. This is where I focussed my energy to start.
Look at what you want to change and break it down into manageable chunks to avoid overwhelm. If you want to start leading a healthier lifestyle, perhaps start with healthier eating and establish that first to give yourself a good foundation. Nail biter? Start with one finger at a time and focus on not biting that fingernail for a whole week or two before moving onto the next. Whatever it is you are trying to achieve can be broken down into smaller goals, tasks or milestones.
Stick with it until it is transformed
In my case, with my messy house, I decided to stick with my kitchen focus for 90 days. You might have heard that it takes 21 days to break a habit, but I really wanted to break the habit and establish a new one so 90 days is where I settled. Each afternoon at around 5pm, I would settle my daughter in front of the TV and head to the kitchen to start cooking dinner while I tidied up. Soon I didn’t even have to think about it and it was my new habit. I kept this as my focus until I was sure that it would stick.
Move onto the next bad habit
With the kitchen under control, I decided to tackle a new task, making my bed each day. A simple task, but when you have always jumped into bed at night with the sheets rumpled where you left them in the morning, it’s a big deal. So you guessed it, for three months I focussed on making my bed each day. I now had a clean kitchen and a freshly made bed to get into each night and was starting to see progress in the house. All with a few simple tweaks to my daily routine.
By focussing on breaking one bad habit at a time, practicing it until it is entrenched behaviour and then moving on to the next habit, you are taking small steps towards your bigger goal. It might feel slow to start but after a few months or “one things” you will start to see real progress.
Go easy on yourself
I have never aimed for perfection. I am realistic about the number of hours I have in each day, as well as my energy levels from mum life! There have been days that I just didn’t get to the kitchen and the dishes stayed in the sink until the next night. Or days when I didn’t make the bed until 7pm at night. But getting back on track is easy, because I am just taking small steps towards a bigger goal. I take each day as it comes and know that catching up is simple.
Be kind to yourself and know that you might have days where you fall back into old habits. Don’t let it bother you and get back on track tomorrow. Dwelling or punishing yourself won’t help!
Have you had any success with breaking bad habits? How did you do it?
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