Rethinking How To Fix Bad Habits
Getting things done, being productive, identifying your big goals and doing something about them regularly… it’s all easy and simple compared to habits. We spend all of our time lamenting how we can’t stop snacking on chocolate, we can’t stop smoking or we can’t stop idly browsing pointless websites and pissing our time away. Unlike a simple little activity or project, you can’t put a habit on your to-do list. You can’t write down “Do not do this habit today” and expect to tick it off at the end of the day. You can’t break it down, clarify it or do any other fancy productivity trick. In short breaking habits is a whole different challenge.
I’ve tried different ways of trying to break and fix bad habits, from trying to go cold turkey and barge through the problem, to taking small steps and making steady changes. None of it worked because I was looking at it the wrong way round. My lifestyle wasn’t a result of my habits – those habits were a result of my lifestyle. How could I fix a bad habit when the way I was living practically encouraged me to do it at every turn?
It’s a bit like trying to quit smoking while being surrounded by smokers, though it’s often more subtle than that. We settle into routines and rituals because it’s naturally easier to satisfy some inner need. So for instance, I would often eat out for dinner rather than staying in and cooking because it was simply easier – I had enough money and a car plus there were plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby.
Another example is where you idly browse the internet, often spending hours looking at websites or checking out friends on Facebook purely for the hell of it. Why? One big reason is because the internet is just getting faster.
The same goes for drinking alcohol or smoking. I’m only a few minutes walk away from a few tinnies if I so wanted. And why do I want them? Because it’s nice and lightens my mood. In short, we slip into these habits because they are easy to fall into. They satisfy us here and now. Try browsing the internet on dial-up and there isn’t much chance of you getting into the habit of it.
That’s the logic I’m using at the moment when it comes to breaking bad habits. Either find something else to replace it with that’s even easier, or find ways of making pursuing the habit difficult and time-consuming. I have no intention of ditching my ADSL connection, but I am currently experimenting with different Firefox plug-ins that block or limit access to certain websites throughout the day. In fact I have three installed at the moment. Why? Well, if I feel like having a wasteful browsing session it’s easy to just disable one plug-in… but three? Suddenly it becomes easier to just do something more constructive instead.
That is a very simple example and it’s not the worst bad habit in the world, but this is the way my thoughts are heading at the moment. Maybe in the future I can give further examples but in the meantime, what are your thoughts? And more importantly, what practical applications can you see for this?