Well, you did it again. You said you would never fall back into the familiar behavior you now despise. But here you are. What can you do to break your bad habit?
A habit is something you do repeatedly to fulfill some desire. Many practices save you time and energy, and they can spare you from grief. For example, before you leave your desk, you might protect your work by saving your open files and locking your computer. Or you might brush your teeth as part of your morning routine.
But a habit can also become undesirable, costly, or otherwise troublesome to you or those around you. For example, you might immediately check your phone whenever you hear a notification alarm even if you are talking face-to-face with someone. Or you might frequently visit websites with harmful content.
As a mature person, you know that you are responsible for your choices and actions. Though your habits often operate automatically, you are still the one carrying out the behavior. But you will likely be frustrated if you try to change a habit through willpower alone.
You will likely be frustrated if you try to change a habit through willpower alone.
There is a smarter way to conquer your automatic behavior. You can reinstate your decision-making to short-circuit your bad habits. Start by asking yourself these questions:
Questions like these can help you clarify your bad habit, build your resolve to change, and begin to develop a plan to overcome it. If you have trouble answering any of these questions, you might ask your spouse, children, parents, or other people who know you best. Another perspective can help define the real issues at stake.
If you’re serious about breaking your bad habit, you should seek accountability in that area. Besides providing another viewpoint, an accountability partner can also reinforce your commitment to change. These positive relationships can give you a support structure as you change your life for the better. They can also help you maintain momentum when progress becomes difficult.
Ask your accountability partner to remind you of your goal and why you are seeking it.
State your goal to select individuals and then share with them your successes and failures as you move forward. Once you have clarified your bad habit and have resolved on a new path, it becomes hard to justify your choices and actions to a trusted partner. Besides, you would hate letting someone down because of your poor decisions and actions.
Find people who will encourage you to improve and want to see you succeed. You might gain support through a community of others who also wish to change this habit. You could use an online accountability software like Accountable2You to share device usage reports with your partners. You might also send a brief progress report of when you conquered your bad habit, or when you succumbed to your old ways again.
Ask your accountability partner to remind you of your goal and why you are seeking it. Invite them to ask questions of you, evaluate your answers, and challenge you to persevere. Disclosing your choices and actions can help you realize the change you desperately desire.
Once you have clarified your bad habit and gathered some supporters around you, now is the time for action. Disrupt your mechanical behavior through deliberate choices.
In his book Atomic Habits, author James Clear identifies four laws for breaking a bad habit.* Consider these laws and an example for each:
Yes, you can break your bad habits! Learn from your past mistakes and get to the heart of your thinking, desiring, and acting. Resolve on what you will change going forward. Benefit from positive relationships with those who will inspire you to conquer your undesirable behavior. Retrain yourself to move forward into a better way of living. You can do it!
* Adapted from James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones (New York: Avery, 2018), 213.