Behaviours and habits that we employ in our everyday life are most important. In a way, they run our life as pretty much everything what we do is based on a habit or a behaviour we have developed at some point in our life and have a long term impact on our health and happiness. Some of them help in building the life we want while others leave us astray. Unproductive habits or behaviours do not support our desired goals and can hold us back from reaching our full potential and are often stress-inducing.
Some of your habits may seem trivial but they add up to your work culture and not only affect you at an individual level, but may filter down through workplace’s structure and affect rest of your team or the organisation as a whole. For instance, if you always are working long hours, you may be communicating to your coworkers that you don’t believe in work-life balance. If you don’t take time to exercise, you are communicating to your team that your health isn’t priority.
What makes it so hard to break bad habits or behaviours
Habits are conditioned repetitive actions we do without thinking. They are automatic responses that become regular activities in our lives. Most of our unproductive habits and unsavoury behaviours develop over time, making them tough to recognise and changing them can be often difficult. Gone unchecked, even our smallest bad habits can negatively impact us because they are distracting and counterproductive.
How many times have you told yourself that today is the day “I am going to make a change” or can you narrow down to a moment when you decided to change something that you wanted and could successfully change? It’s not only hard to initiate behavioural change, but what is even harder is to make that change lasting. These changes can be something major, such as your job, or your career or it could be something minor like change the way you go about your daily routine.
How your beliefs sabotage your behaviour
Some of the common reasons why we resist change are procrastination, not committing, not being consistent, having unrealistic expectations or wishful thinking. But more often than not, the biggest challenge in breaking bad habits especially long-standing ones are the limiting set of beliefs we hold onto. Some limiting beliefs that make you resist change.
- ‘I have all the time in the world’. If you’ve ever binge-watched a season or two of a show when you should be working on an important assignment or a presentation, you know you have sacrificed your goals for short-term gratification. Such choices make you forego a long-term benefit and trigger procrastination. Other such excuses are ‘this isn’t the right time’ or ‘I’ll do it some other time or tomorrow.’
- ‘I don’t believe in it.’ The beliefs we grow up with often become our resistance to changing. We fall back on a set of beliefs that trigger denial, resistance and ultimately we stop making changes. Some other belief excuses we tend to give ourselves are, ‘I am not good enough’ ‘It can’t be done’ or ‘It’s just not right.’
- ‘There is nothing wrong with me.’ This triggers denial of the need to do anything to change. We are unaware that a change is needed or more likely that we can’t admit that we need to change. This is when we somehow reason ourselves into excuses that deny our need to change.
- ‘I can’t do anything about this problem.’ This belief is the result of perceiving ourselves in a limited way. Lack of inherent drive, especially with regard to effort, action or activity is the reason we never start the process of change. Our comfort zones make us further resist the extra effort we need to put in order to start something difficult that will be good for us in the long run.
- ‘I don’t know how to’. We may be motivated to bring about a change, but sometimes we lack awareness of how to go about changing a particular habit or lack direction. For instance, you may be motivated to lose weight but you might lack nutritional understanding, lack understanding of right calorie intake or which exercise regime to follow. Or sometimes, it might be that you have understanding and ability but lack motivation.
How you respond to expectations affects your ability to change.
When setting out to change our habits, we often think of outcomes and create expectations which makes us feel disappointed and give up quickly when things don’t turn out as we expected. If you readily respond and live up to both outer and inner expectations, you are good at scheduling your tasks and goals. If you try to meet an expectation only when you find it reasonable, you might delay a change but might work towards it with clarity. Similarly, responding readily to outer expectations makes you good at accountability. Knowing how you respond to expectations, you can have a better idea of what habit-change strategy will work best for you.
How to change unhelpful habits or behaviours
Failure to change unhelpful habits or behaviours is often the result of not having a proper strategy in place. The best way to make a lasting change is to follow a plan whenever you experience an impulse. Relying solely on your will power might not prepare you to overcome the challenges that may surface. The will power you assume when you set a goal may not always measure up to the will power you might display in achieving that goal. So, it is important to know specific ways to reinforce new patterns of behaviour. Here are some strategies to help you do so.
Know the triggers that lead up to a habit you are trying to break. They can be external like a place, situations, events or can be internal like the limiting beliefs, or certain emotional states. Record the time when you indulge in such a habit, location or place you are mostly in, whom you are with, what is your emotional state and what were you doing. Doing this for a while can help you narrow down to your patterns and provides you insight into what exactly is triggering your habit that you want to change. Once you determine what is reinforcing the habit, make choices to change it.
Increase your awareness around the habit or behaviour you are trying to change to improve your ability. Being aware of the causes and consequences of your unhelpful behaviours or beliefs can help you come up with new alternatives for positive change. Increase your knowledge about a behavioural goal you like to pursue and seek factual information to evaluate pros and cons of pursuing it. But at the same time, knowing can give you a false sense of accomplishment. You should substantiate knowing by making the necessary changes that will help you to break bad habitual patterns that don’t work for you.
Find right motivation. We underestimate how the quality of our goals affects our motivation. When we set goals that aren’t motivating enough, we tend to put less effort or quickly give up at the first signs of progress. Our motivation and ability are inversely related. The easier something is to do, the less motivation is needed to do it. On the other hand, the harder something is to do, the more motivation is needed.
And if you have zero motivation to do something, you won’t do it regardless of how easy it is to do it. At the same time, if you are very motivated, but it’s incredibly difficult to do, you will be frustrated to do it. So, A change will only happen when you are sufficiently motivated to change your behaviour or set goals that match your skill or ability.
- Read more : How to build lasting motivation
Counter with positive routines. Our habits come from a desire to get a subconscious reward and we have them for some reason like either to feel relaxed, energised, accepted or to feel happy. You can substitute unhelpful habits and still have the same rewards by implementing few different strategies whenever you experience a trigger. But your goal should be to figure out a positive routine that will provide the same reward instead of a negative routine.
When an urge to engage in a unhealthy habit or behaviour emerges, you can counter that with a healthy choice. For instance, opting for a healthy fruit snack to counter your unhealthy snacking habit. Taking time out for meditation to reduce anxiety, or going for a walk to counter stress or anger.
Use visualisation. Sometimes, the key to changing your behaviour is to consider what kind of person your current behaviour makes you, and what kind of person you’d like to be. Look closely at your negative behaviours and become more aware of their consequences.
How do you see yourself if you change your unhelpful habit or behaviour? How does it change you in terms of stress, time and energy? Picture yourself as having been successful at breaking bad habits. Visualising your better future self can help you prioritise your values, tasks and time.
Choose suitable environment. Many times, the circumstances of daily life, the type of environment you are in can help or hinder efforts to change your behaviour. For instance, consider how difficult it would be to quit smoking if you spent your time in places where many people around you were smoking regularly. Changing your environment helps you with positive behavioural changes and makes such changes easier.
Alter environments that you directly control, such as your home or workspace. For instance, you can make your home or work space more conducive to new behaviour by placing reminders, or you can remove triggers for unhealthy habits in your present environment such as not stocking up junk food. This could also include staying away from people, places and things that trigger your problematic behaviours. Instead surround yourself with people who facilitate the change you want to make.
Questions for self-reflection
What kind of culture do your habits add up to – helpful or unhelpful?
Did you ever initiated any significant habit or behavioural change as an adult?
Why do you cling to some of your bad habits or behaviours?
How do you see yourself if you change your unhelpful habits?
How does breaking from an unhelpful behaviour make you feel emotionally or physically?
Which areas of your life do you need to make changes ?
How do you approach changing some of your habits – Is it structured with a strategy in place or Is it unstructured?
Which of your beliefs are self-sabotaging in terms of self-growth or improvement?
How do you respond to your and others’ expectations in achieving your goals?
Changing old to new is hard, as is quitting bad habits or behaviours and requires persistence and perseverance. Track your progress towards your specific goal keeps you focused and provides feedback. So, failing once in a while or feelings of discouragement when trying to stop them is natural part of habit-change. When you tend to slip up or find yourself reverting to the problematic behaviour you are trying to reduce, re-engage with one of the above strategies to keep up with your progress.
There are no overnight strategies or one-size fits all approach to break free from bad habits or behaviours. Consider trying out combination of these strategies to find which one works best for you. It takes time and practice to know which of these best applies to the change you are trying to make. Everyday making an effort not to give into your negative habits or behaviours is a step towards changing it.
Related Read : overcome your habit of procrastination
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