How to kick a bad habit

I came across a familiar quote by Aristotle while researching for a training today:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Another related quote that I like is:

“Sow a thought, and you reap an act; Sow an act, and you reap a habit; Sow a habit, and you reap a character; Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.” ~ Charles Reade

It got me thinking about how our lives are influenced, shaped and determined by the habits that we have cultivated over time. As human beings, we are necessarily ‘creatures’ of habit.  Our habits allow us to function on an autopilot mode, without any conscious thinking needed.  It’s almost like the ‘programmes’ we have installed in our personal OS (operating system) that kick in automatically when an external stimulus is provided, freeing our mind to focus and work on more ‘important’ stuff.

While our habits are generally helpful, some are less desirable than others. Smoking, snacking, biting our nails … just to name a few.  And it’s often been said that habits are hard to break, especially if we are relying on willpower alone. The neural pathways that account for our habitual ways of thinking and behaving are pretty stubborn and not easily changed.

What I have found useful, when it comes to kicking a bad habit (oh yes, I have plenty), is to alter the conditions or environment that make the exercise of the habitual behaviours difficult or inconvenient.  In other words, the first step is to ‘break the pattern’ … which then lays the foundation for a new pattern to be formed by substituting the old behaviour with a new or desirable one.  Finally, repeat the new behaviour until it becomes a habit.

For example, to kick the habit of snacking (which is a common cause of obesity), get rid of unhealthy snacks at home, and have some fruits readily available.  When you feel like munching something, rather than reaching for the fattening potato chips (which is impossible if you haven’t got any), head for the apple instead.  Similarly, to quit smoking, start with not carrying any cigarette with you, and try an alternative that will satisfy the same need that smoking addresses (e.g. physical exercise is a much better remedy for stress than a nicotine fix).

Now, pick a ‘bad’ habit that you wish to kick and try out this simple 3-step process:

  1. Break the Pattern
  2. Substitute old behaviour with new
  3. Repeat new behaviour until it becomes a new habit


Your Habitual Dad


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