Trying to Break an Unwanted Habit?

A few tips that may help

Everyone has a behavior or two that might be considered a “bad” habit. Of course, the word “bad” is thrown around pretty easily when we talk about habits. Many of our so called “bad” habits are actually fairly benign behaviors. Although some “bad” habits may pose a health threat, most common habits are actually more annoying or irksome than they are harmful. It’s probably far more accurate to call such habits “unwanted” rather than “bad.”

As common as our “unwanted” habits may be, they can be very difficult to break. Why? Well, because they are exactly what they are… habits. When you stop to think about it, a lot of our actions in life are done out of habit… or routine. There are countless constructive or “good” habits that help us live our lives in a productive, healthy way.

People get up every morning and tend to do the same things in the same sequence before starting the day. We take a shower… brush our teeth… eat our breakfast… walk the dog… call, text, or email our kids, friends, or parents… and so on. Then, we go about our days and nights engaging in many other predictable habits.

Living in a predictable way can be fundamental to a manageable life. It’s how most of us are programed. But, that same programming can make it very difficult to break “unwanted” habits, especially those that have been around awhile. But it CAN be done. The goal is to get from simply wanting to break a habit to actually stopping it. The path can be unique to each person, but here are some suggestions you may find helpful as you head toward your goal of breaking an unwanted habit.

A few steps to try…

  • Make a conscious decision. If you’re going to be successful at breaking an unwanted habit, simple desire may not be enough. You must commit yourself to working toward your goal. You must truly believe that breaking the habit will be worth the effort. Think about all the reasons why you want to break the habit.

  • Visualize being habit-free. Close your eyes and imagine the positives that will come from eliminating the unwanted behavior. See yourself in a situation where you would be likely to engage in the behavior, but envision a picture of yourself minus the habit.

  • Determine the whys behind the “unwanted” habit. There’s a reason behind almost everything we do, even with what seem to be unconscious actions. To stop doing something, it helps to know why you’re doing it in the first place. Many habits are a source of comfort or a release mechanism for stress. Think about the instances when you tend to do whatever the habit may be and the circumstances, feelings, and so on that cause you to engage in the habit. Also think about what you get out of the behavior.

  • If there’s an issue, deal with it. If your habit is the result of something in your life you can change, do whatever is necessary to make that change. For example, if you fidget because you feel uneasy around people you don’t know, find ways to work on your social skills. You may find you’ll fidget less the more comfortable you become around strangers.

  • Replace the habit. It may be possible to substitute some unwelcome habits with other behaviors. Many unwanted habits provide some kind of comfort, relieve stress, or help fill boring moments. However, the same benefits often can be achieved through other means. The idea is to find a more acceptable behavior that can provide the same benefits as your undesirable habit. It may take some practice, but the new behavior can become your new “welcome” habit.

  • Give yourself time, and don’t give up. Breaking an unwanted habit rarely happens overnight. Understand from the start that changing your behavior will probably be a series of stops and starts. After all, the habit you are trying to break has probably been part of your life for a very long time. It has become an automatic, unconscious action you’ve been doing without any thought. But once you begin paying attention to the action, you’ll be able to make the change.

  • Don’t go it alone. Lots of people find it helps to tell somebody else when attempting to break an unwanted habit. Ask a family member or friend to remind you of your goal if they see you engaging in the behavior you’re trying to stop. Also ask the person to remember to be discreet and respect your privacy when they remind you.

  • Pat yourself on the back regularly. Be proud of yourself as you get better and better at circumventing your unwanted habit. Give yourself credit each and every time you are tempted to engage in the behavior but do not. When the time comes when the habit is no longer a constant in your life, make sure to celebrate. Yes, celebrate! You will have accomplished something extremely challenging. Bravo!

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