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Shortcut to Breaking Bad Habits

July 8, 2013

I’m quitting coffee, and it’s not easy.  But being a grown person means that you do what’s best for yourself and kick your own butt when necessary.

Habits are hard to break, whether good or bad, as we are all creatures of routine.  But what I didn’t realize until recently is that breaking habits is NOT about forcing ourselves to undo the action. That is a path to failure because there is simply not enough willpower to go around!  (I was so happy after finding this research.  The internet is truly a great feel-good tool.)

Rather, the secret to breaking a habit is to create a small and desirable alternative habit.  The key word here is small.  Why?  A small habit is easier to form and do not require extreme discipline.

Let’s take my example.  Stopping coffee cold turkey is hard.  But drinking a glass of water before reaching for the coffee is easy.  My small habit is to drink a glass of water in the morning.  Then I decide if I still want coffee.  If I do, then I take my coffee.  Most of the time, I don’t want any more liquids in my system after that glass of water.

Let’s take another example.  Sometimes the office chit-chat takes up too much time, and we end up staying late to finish our work.  We want to go home on time, but resisting office socializing is hard (unless you’re a grump).  So what’s the small habit?  Duck out and work somewhere more private during the hour when the office is most rambunctious.  Or, schedule your calls for when colleagues nearby are most chatty, so that you are out of the equation by default.

Small new habits become routine very quickly.  It provides an alternative to continuing on with the old habit, and lets you gracefully exit your “old ways” without having to summon up enormous personal strengths.

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