Yesterday in Step 1 of this series, we spent some time examining what exactly our bad habit is giving us that’s good. See there’s always some kind of good that outweighs the bad. Nobody slogs through quicksand to claim a pile of more quicksand at the end… or do they?
That’s the thing about habits. They often exist purely because we are too comfy with them to turn them on their head. You walk through quicksand long enough and quicksand starts to feel quite normal. We tend to forget that it’s much easier, more pleasant and a hundred times better for us to walk on a stretch of delightful grass instead. We’d rather slog on through because that’s just what we do.
Habits often exist simply because we haven’t decided to change them. That’s why Step 2 s so, so, so important.
How to break a bad habit
Step 2. Decide to make the change
Your second big habit busting why is asking yourself why you want to stop. Now is the time to get completely real and don’t be silly and sugar coat things. Don’t pretend you want to stop because you’ve read how bad your habit is for you, for others, for the planet. Habits are much more powerful than mere words on a page. Lots of times we need to get really scared out of our habits (sad but true). Or over time we need to develop such a loathing of them that it cancels out all the good stuff they’ve given us over the years.
See, once you know both your whys — the “why do I do it” and the “why I should stop doing it” — you can decide whether it’s something you really want to change or not. Just because other people tell you that you should break a habit, doesn’t mean you necessarily want to or even that you should. If you’re not 100% ready to change, you simply won’t.
This is why nagging doesn’t work — especially if it’s coming from your partner or your mum or your best friend in the world, but also when it’s coming from yourself. You can’t nag yourself into doing anything… nagging is an external trigger, not an internal one (yes, even if it’s the voice in your head). We don’t change because we think we have to, we change because we perceive that the rewards of being different are better than the rewards of being the same.
In the end I got scared into giving up diet coke. There was a paper published that showed a causal link between diet coke and diabetes that I just couldn’t ignore. It was my ‘last straw’ that piled on top of the bad skin and the bad example for my children and it finally motivated me to want to change. I stopped drinking diet coke the minute I read that article. The diabetes thing was why I finally, finally wanted to change my bad habit. The rewards were finally cancelled out by the risks of continuing.
So if right now the rewards of your habit outweigh the perceived cons, stop reading and go and have a ciggie (possibly a metaphorical one) and just remember to come back here when you’re ready. Don’t worry, you’ll know straightaway when you are.
Homework for today
Write down all the reasons why you want to change your habit… find the reasons and then write down the consequences. You will need to be brave for this exercise because chances are you’ve been ignoring the consequences of your actions for a very long time indeed.
“Setting a bad example to my children” is a good reason to want to stop biting your nails but “passing onto my children an inability to find a healthy outlet for boredom / anxiety / stress” is a deep consequence that may make you think differently about your habit. Or, better still, simply “not having a healthy outlet for my boredom / anxiety / stress.” You can see where we’re going here.
Your habit may be a big thing or it may be a silly little thing, but trust me, when you really dig deep you will find that plenty of the consequences of continuing make you want to stop. Think big, go deep, lug single boulder and upturn every single pebble and see what lies beneath. Write those down today.
What do you think might happen if you don’t stop your habit?