Is it just me, or does it seem like a bad habit is hard to break? And conversely, a good habit is hard to make?
I tried to stick to the habit of working out for close to 20 years. I’d do great for six months to a year. But eventually, I’d always quit and go back to my old ways.
The same goes for bad habits. I’ve gone back and forth, biting my nails, for most of my life.
That said, there are bad habits I’ve quit and will never touch again. There are also good habits that I’ve stuck to for more than seven years. That made me wonder, what did it take for me to change those habits for good?
Before I dive into how I changed those habits, I should probably tell you what this embarrassing habit was. A lot of people don’t know this about me because I’ve been ashamed to share. But I think the lessons learned are helpful so here it goes … I was a smoker.
It started innocently, as it always does. I just wanted to fit in and look cool. But before I knew it, I was hooked.
As an adult, I hid my nasty habit really well. I had a job where I traveled throughout the Midwest to meet with business owners who I coached on a monthly basis. I always made sure that I left enough time between my last cigarette and my next meeting so that they wouldn’t be able to smell it on me. None of them knew I smoked.
I truly wanted to quit. I tried again and again for more than 10 years. But it never stuck.
Next Wednesday marks the seventh anniversary of the day I quit for good. Looking back, I’m reminded how difficult breaking the habit was. At the time, it was the most difficult thing I had ever done. But my success with breaking this one habit helped me succeed with so many other goals that came after.
This realization inspired me to share my journey to change habits for good.
The Five Things You Need to Change Your Habits
A Good Why
I believe that most (if not all) of us need a really good reason if we’re going to change a habit. Many people refer to this reason as your why. It’s that gut-wrenching purpose deep within your soul. For example, I’ve heard many people say that they quit smoking, drinking, or lost weight so they could be there for their children or grandchildren.
What was my why?
As health conscious as I am today, you might think that was the reason. But it wasn’t. The health part came later that year.
The previous year, my husband and I had become serious about our personal finances. We saw the opportunity to create a great deal of financial freedom in a short amount of time.
Over the previous six months, I had been tracking our spending. In April of 2011, I took that information and created our first written budget. Seeing just how much that bad habit was costing us on paper was eye-opening. I did some quick calculations of how much that money could be worth in 20 years if I invested it instead of spending it on something I wasn’t even enjoying. And that’s all it took. After trying to quit for more than 10 years, I quit the next month.
Are you wondering how to find your why?
To find your why, think about that one thing you want more than anything. Then ask yourself why you want it. After you answer, keep asking yourself why until it pulls at your heartstrings. If your why doesn’t evoke emotion, you probably haven’t found it yet.
Your why needs to be bigger than today. Think about what you want your life to look like, 10, 20, 30 years from now. Give yourself the permission to dream bigger.
The Support of a Mentor
For many of us, it’s very difficult to ask for help. There’s a sense of individualism built into the American culture. We falsely believe that we just need to buck up and go it alone.
The truth is that the most successful people didn’t go it alone. The world’s best athletes have a team of coaches that push them to be their best. Warren Buffett had Benjamin Graham. Emerson had Thoreau. And I had Rene.
Rene was a friend who had quit smoking a year earlier. She talked me off the ledge on day two after I had convinced myself that I couldn’t do it. She stuck by me during that first month when it was the most difficult.
I have a hard time asking for help but I was desperate. In an effort to encourage you to ask before you hit your breaking point, I want to share some words from a wise friend.
“Do you love to help others? Do you experience joy in using your talents to help someone who struggles? If so, consider that you are depriving someone else of that same joy by not making your own needs known.” – Erin K. Robison
I feel it’s important to mention the power of virtual mentors here. Virtual mentors are entirely responsible for getting my husband and me started on this journey to create a life of purpose and intention. Whatever you’re trying to achieve, there’s a book or podcast that will guide and encourage you on your journey.
[bctt tweet=”Do you love to help others? Do you experience joy in using your talents to help someone who struggles? If so, consider that you are depriving someone else of that same joy by not making your own needs known. @erinkrobison” username=”hollyascherer”]
Recognize Habit Triggers
Yes, nicotine is ridiculously addictive. But even after I had broken the physical addiction, I found myself reaching for an invisible cigarette up to two years later.
When it comes to bad habits and destructive behavior, we typically have triggers that lead us to engage in that behavior. For example, after an intense meeting or conference call, I found release by lighting up. And the first thing I did after finishing a meal was excuse myself to go get my fix.
If you have a habit you’re trying to change, pay attention to the triggers that lead you to that behavior. Do you eat more junk when you get stressed? Or take it out on your family when you have a bad day at work? Understanding our own unique patterns is the first step to changing them.
Replace the Habit
After you identify your triggers, it’s time to replace those habits. Instead of lighting up after an intense conference call, I’d head outside for a few minutes and pull some weeds in the garden. Rather than grabbing a cigarette after a meeting, I’d chew a piece of gum instead.
By creating a new response pattern to your triggers, you’ll have the energy to take your mind off the old behavior and focus on building the new.
Nurture Your Mindset
One of the most important lessons I learned over the last seven years is that the number one thing standing between me and what I’m hoping to achieve is that thing between my two ears. This journey to create the life I want has been a series of confronting a lifetime of limiting beliefs. I suspect this is something we work on throughout our entire lives.
As a lifelong perfectionist, one of my greatest limiting beliefs was that nothing was ever good enough. “Great, you got 100 percent on that paper. Why didn’t you ask for extra credit and get 110 percent?”, I’d ask myself. I realized that not feeling good enough led me to engage in all sorts of bad habits and behaviors.
I was forced to learn to love and believe in myself. I recognized that there was nothing anyone else could say that would help me achieve my goals if I didn’t first believe that I deserved it.
Could you have beliefs that are holding you back?
Don’t be afraid to seek the help of a professional. We’ve all had a lifetime of difficult experiences and it can be challenging to unpack them on our own.
These five things were instrumental to my success in achieving this goal. I see now that I wasn’t able to quit for good until they were all in alignment. Knowing these five steps will help you arrange what you need to change your habits once and for all.
You can create the life you truly desire. And you deserve to have that life. Give yourself permission to take one small step, starting today, and keep moving forward.