This is the final post in a series of four establishing the core foundation of breaking any bad habits that are having a negative impact on your life. With this foundation, you will no longer be inhibited by these actions that are preventing you from being your best self.
With all of this information and all of these tools at your disposal, there’s one last conversation to have before we are complete.
Since your mind loves habitual patterns so much, there are more and more secrets it’s hiding from you. I’ve pointed out most of them, but even your belief in willpower as an unlimited resource will do you no good without a few more protocols.
Why mentioning your bad habit is keeping it alive
Telling yourself not to do something actually plays into the enemy’s hands. From a psychological perspective, we don’t gain from putting our bad habits in a negative light. We are still recognizing its existence, which makes our minds think that habit still needs a place in our lives.
Rather than telling “it” to go away, you will experience far greater success if you replace that thought with one that says “I’m going to do ‘this’ instead.”
That’s nice and abstract, right? Let me make things a bit clearer.
Hoping a roadblock isn’t going to pop up and inhibit your daily actions is not preventative.
If I’m driving around the city, and see some maniac swerve over into my lane just so we can all slam on our brakes at the red light ahead, I don’t want to say “don’t get angry, don’t get angry, don’t get angry.”
Instead, I want to ignore the concept of anger all together and say “I’m calm, I’m calm, I’m calm.” The statement is not only affirmative, but it also keeps the whole idea of anger far off in the distance. I’m not trying to not be angry, I’m trying to be calm—anger is nowhere to be found.
If you can convince yourself to subscribe to the notion that “the brain’s habit-learning system doesn’t really learn anything by ‘not doing,’” you’ll manage to nip that bad habit in the bud much more quickly, and you’ll automatically be replacing that habit with a more fruitful one.
"Bad habits address a need in your life, so there better be something there to fill that need once you break it." —James Clear
What need am I filling by getting angry at the Evel Knieval wannabe in front of me? I would reflect and say I’m filling the need to be in the “right” and feel “above” the other person.
How might I fill that need in a different way? I can stay calm, take pride in not letting external circumstances divert me from my path in life, and not allow this tiny moment in time to affect my mood for the next few hours.
Just asking myself those two questions is incredibly empowering and let’s me pre-plan for the next time I experience a similar event.
“Figure out all of the things that can go wrong, and use those as guideposts for the things you need to be prepared for as you embark on the process of making change. Because a lot of obstacles are very real.” —Art Markman
Hoping a roadblock isn’t going to pop up and inhibit your daily actions is not preventative. The second that inconvenience shows face, you’ll be defaulting to reactive responses, which is where many of your bad habits take over.
You can't plan for everything, so don't
To make Markman’s comments a little less daunting (saying you should figure out ALL the things), bring your scenarios to a higher level.
Rather than imagining all the different ways other drivers will get on my nerves, I can wrap everything into a single scenario known as driving.
All I need to do is imagine myself turning on the ignition and connect starting the car with turning up my mindfulness radar. Now I’m hyperaware of my emotional barometer and can control it throughout my journey regardless of the circumstances that are forthcoming.
Your reaction to failure is far more important than failure itself.
The power of this practice lies in not relying on endpoints containing every situation that could possibly happen in between. It’s impossible for me to imagine what the worst possible scenario on the road could be for my destructive emotional response.
Even if I came up with something pretty horrific, the odds of something completely different and subjectively worse happening are way too high, which gives my bad habit way too much life.
So, find the sentence or two that wraps your potential triggers into a nice little box, and make the conscious decision to enter a state of empowerment when that box is on the table. You won’t be fearful of what’s inside any longer because you’ve set yourself up for limitless possibilities with the correct response to all of them at your disposal.
Seeing failure in a whole new light
After everything that has been discussed in this post and the previous three, it would be unwise to complete this discussion without mentioning the most human thing of all—failure.
No matter how well you implement all of the ideas I’ve presented in this series, something is bound to break.
AND, THAT’S OK!!!
“People who try to make a change due to guilt or frustration often fail. People who respect and like themselves — and who are generally happy with who they are — are more likely to succeed. So challenge your bad habit from a position of personal strength and confidence, not a perspective of failure or weakness. Remember that you have countless good habits and qualities, and only a handful of ones that warrant change.”
Your reaction to failure is far more important than failure itself. A week of successful resistance is not wiped off the table due to one bad day, regardless of your hard-to-control negativity bias.
Good and bad habits follow the same logic most things in life do: if you’ve been doing something for many years, and expect to make and stick to changes in a single week, you’ll find yourself in a constant state of disappointment.
You’re working on a two step process—unlearning, then learning all over again.
“Unlearning is not about forgetting. It’s about the ability to choose an alternative mental model or paradigm. When we learn, we add new skills or knowledge to what we already know. When we unlearn, we step outside the mental model in order to choose a different one.”
While you unlearn these deeply rooted bad habits, you’ll find yourself in a state of limbo, or as Thomas Kuhn calls it in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, you’ll be in crisis mode.
Before you addressed your bad habit, it fit inside the paradigm you called “normal.” Then, as you started noticing the negative consequences this habit had on your life, you began to identify some discomfort in this “normal” state.
Now, the anomalies (a.k.a. negative consequences) have become too big to ignore, and you’ve fallen into a state of crisis where the “normal” state is definitely wrong, but the future paradigm is unknown.
This is where new discoveries will be had, and a new you will emerge. Have fun while you’re here.
- Determine the values and morals that lead to your unique definition of a bad habit.
- Take things one at a time, maintaining an unbreakable focus on each bad habit you choose to address.
- With each new day, remind yourself you have an unlimited supply of willpower and self-control.
- Then, understand failure is nothing more than being human, and you have the ability to reset, get back on the path you know to be true, and crush it the next time around.
I hope you enjoyed this series as much as I did, and I encourage you to drop a line in the comments section with any thoughts or ideas you’d like to share. Next month, I’ll be shifting gears and exploring the “good” side of things in the world of forming new habits and truly stepping into a brand new state of being.