How to Kick your Bad Habit for Good

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Career change, new career, work that matters, work that you love, happiness

Good habits

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Are you ready to shake off your bad habits for good?

The final part of the mental spring clean is all about habits.  Bad habits can cost us a huge amount of happiness, time, self-esteem and money.  Good habits can make our life joyful, peaceful and successful.

Habits are our subconscious behaviour patterns that we act out, often without thinking.

Habits develop as a way for us to deal with the immense complexity of everyday living. They are mental shortcuts that we adopt to make our life simpler.

For example, almost everyone develops a habit of locking their house on the way out. We perform this complex task several times on most days without even thinking.  I’ve had a few OCD moments where I thought I’d left the front door open, yet on returning it was locked.  That habit is pretty much ingrained.

To end the Spring Clean with a bang, I’m challenging myself and you too.

You’ll stop one of your bad habits, or create a new virtuous one.

I’d love to get 100 of us to experiment and make a lasting life change, so please do leave a comment and take part.

The first step is to understand our habits:

  • Think about the bad habits you have.  Which one has the most serious impact on your life?  How much is this habit costing you?
  • Now, think about what habits you’d like to bring into your life.  Which new habit would have the biggest impact on your happiness and success?
  • Now pick one of these habits, either bad or good, and set a goal to remove it from your life, or create it over the next month.

I’ve selected wasting time surfing the internet as my bad habit and I want to stamp it out for good.

We’ll use a powerful 5 step model for change. I’ll use my challenge as the example:

Step 1: Contemplation. We have to understand the benefits of making the change, and deal with any negatives.

Some of the key questions to answer at this stage are:

  • What is your motivation for wanting to change / create this habit?
  • What are some of the benefits of changing?
  • What may be holding you back from changing?

In my case, I will free up an hour or two a day for the things I really want to do, be more productive and feel happier.  I’m held by from change by pure inbred habit.

Step 2: Preparation. This is where we make our plan for successfully introducing the new habit.  Good preparation is vital to success and some of the key things to do include:

  • Find someone to hold us accountable. I will happily hold you accountable – please just ask.
  • Research as much as you can about the habit you want to change – I’ve spent time researching time management techniques and how to beat an internet habit.
  • Create a clear plan for change and design a process for monitoring and rewarding progress. I will reward myself every day that I’m successful by using the time I’ve freed up to read for 20 minutes.
  • Design contingency plans for “falling off the wagon” and prepare yourself for this happening.

These first two steps may take a few days to a week to complete properly.

Step 3: Taking action. This is where the rubber hits the road. Ingraining a new habit can take several months to achieve and will almost inevitably involve ups and downs along the path.

This step will need you to reward your success and forgive yourself for slip-ups.  Be kind and fair to yourself.

Step 4: Maintenance. Once you’ve taken action successfully, you’ll start to see the fruits of your labour.

The key to maintenance is to find ways to avoid being tempted to relapse.  I might try turning off my wireless network during the mornings to take away any temptation to surf.

Step 5: Relapse. Old habits die hard.  Relapse is a normal and inevitable part of changing a habit. The key to moving through a relapse is to understand the reason for falling down, and to work out the best way to avoid a repeat.

Remembering that almost everyone who has successfully made a change has been through this process can be helpful in forgiving yourself. Once you’ve understood the relapse, it is best to go back to the preparation phase and “get back on the horse”.

Over to you

We all have bad habits we’d like to kick or good ones we have been meaning to introduce.  Please play along at home and pick one to take on over the next month.

Please leave me a comment and let me know what habit you are working on and what difference it will make to your life.

That concludes the Mental Spring Clean!  We’ve looked at Changing the Story we tell the world, the Games we play and how to win them, Beating the Gremlins in our head and changing habits.  I hope you’ve dusted down your attic and found some old gems.

Next up on Less Ordinary Living: Why Work Matters.

Photo credit: Kevindooley on Flickr Creative Commons

Related posts:

  1. Make 2010 your Best Year Yet – Six Steps to Lasting Change
  2. Secret Games We Play and How to Win Them
  3. Spring Clean your Mind
  4. The Lost Art of Being Happy – 5 Steps to a Happier Life
  5. Discover 5 ways to have an amazing day


  1. Phil
    April 20, 2010 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Let’s kick a habit together, or create a new one. What habit are your going to work on, and how can I help?

  2. April 20, 2010 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Hey Phil,

    This is something I think everybody should learn. I remember reading once in a book called \"The Inner Game of Tennis\" that an important thing in changing habits is focusing on the new one and practicing it, instead of thinking too much about the old one you\’re trying to replace. That helped me a lot, and I always recommend it.

  3. April 20, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Great post! Bad habits do die hard. The secret for me is to replace the bad habit with something else. When a habit is a big part of your life, no matter what that habit is, removing it leaves a void. So when I want to get rid of a habit, I think of something that I can do to replace it that is also beneficial. I used to have a late night snack and decided to stop so instead,I would develop a habit of doing 50 crunches when I craved the snack. Eventually the craving started to go away.

    Thanks for the post!

  4. April 20, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,
    I have a terrible habit of chewing my fingers – not my fingernails, but my fingers. I do it when I’m stressed, and not only is it unsightly, but it’s downright painful! I’ve decided to tackle this bad habit. I’d love it if you’d hold me accountable! My reward will be a manicure to showcase my new, beautiful hands. This is important to me because I use my hands to express myself when I talk, and I often have to shake hands in my job, but I’m embarrassed about how my hands look. I’ll let you know how I go!
    .-= Topi´s last blog ..I’ll walk a mile in your shoes =-.

  5. Phil
    April 20, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    @Eduard – I have read the Inner Game of Tennis and it is a great guide to creating good habits. It says to focus on a particular skill and practice that consistently. After a while it becomes habitual. Anyone making the change should make this part of the preparation stage -how are you going to practice the habit? I am planning to monitor myself carefully for a whole month and plan my time more carefully to stop wasting time on the internet. Great advice Eduard!

    @Ralph – great to have you here. I like the replacement theory, although 50 crunches sounds pretty hardcore! This brings up a good question about changing habits – abstinence against moderation. Some people are able to moderate, others only to stop doing something. If you know yourself, you’ll be clear on this. Make sure you change your habits accordingly. See you soon!

    @Topi – I have the same habit sometimes – when I’m nervous / anxious. i’ve found that a regular practice of breathing exercises / meditation for 10 mins a day has really helped me – I stopped chewing my nails after 30 years. I’ll happily hold you accountable – let me know once you have your plan together and how I can help you out. You can email me at phil at lessordinaryliving dot com.

  6. April 20, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    When I wanted to kick my coffee habit nearly 3 years ago, I replaced it with something. On the first attempt I failed because of the painful headaches. The second attempt was permanent because I replaced it with fruit smoothies instead. I have had coffee since, but only a few cups while I was in india (because soya hot chocs were had to come by!) but apart from that I’ve been coffee free.

    I haven’t thought about which habit I want to instill and which I want to change but I’ll let you know.

    Replacement is a great step! :-)
    .-= Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog ..How To Be A Fat Bastard And Run The Marathon =-.

  7. April 20, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    The bad habit that I would like to change is eating at fast food joints. The alternative is for me to do go grocery shopping and eating more fruits and vegatalbes and cooking my own food. This is not an easy thing to do for me, as when I’m on the road and I see a Jack In The Box and I am feeling hungry my first instinct is to grab some Jack In The Box. I have noticed though that the discipline of cooking at home and eating vegatalbes is a good discipline I’ll get back into.

  8. April 20, 2010 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Ha! That’s the funniest picture, Phil. One habit that I’d like to get back into is getting up at 5 am. I loved having time to putter around, catch the sunrise and make breakfast for my family. I did it for 8+ mos. straight until I got sick. I plan to officially start in May (with guilt-free practice the rest of the month). Wish me luck.

  9. April 20, 2010 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil, You nailed it in this post. Very thorough. We all have Thought-Habits and when we assume complete responsibility for these we can begin to replace them with something new. Nature will not tolerate a vacuum. You cannot drop an old habit without setting up a replacement habit. I have a habit of being forceful which I replace with “kind & gentle”
    .-= rob white´s last blog ..The Big Three: Being, Doing & Having =-.

  10. April 20, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    What bad habit? I’m afraid I am perfect, Phil! ;)
    Just kidding – Ok, so I have been so self-disciplined about never developing bad habits that I almost want to go into that realm just for fun sometimes. It annoys my closest friends but I think I am pleased with how I can control my habits. There is one I need to work on and that is to truly listen when someone talks and not to think about what I am going to say next. I want to truly connect and be present during conversations and make the speaker feel completely cared about. I am improving but I am not there yet… in case we have a live chat someday, tell me how I do….Great post!

  11. April 21, 2010 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil, this is my first visit to you blog. I’m very interested in your article. It’s so timely. I’ve been working on changing a few habit of my own and this post was exactly what I needed to read right now. I’ve been trying to get up earlier every day so that I exercise. Needless to say my getting early has been spotty, so my exercise has been spotty too. I’m going to give it another go tomorrow! Thanks.
    .-= Angela Artemis´s last blog ..What’s Love Got to Do With Reality? =-.

  12. Steven
    April 21, 2010 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    My bad habit is exactly that: Spend too much time online. Also feel like too easily being distracted. Try to be more productive and organized.

  13. April 21, 2010 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Oh yes, I have unplugged my wireless to keep off the internet! But I’m in more of a mood to add a good habit. Lately I’m loving the idea that it’s the meaningful additions to our lives that crowd out the bad habits. Kind of like when you plant a perennial garden, the weeds have no room to roam. So I’ll stick with the garden metaphor and say my new habit is 30 minutes each day in the garden. I have wanted to do this for so long, so it’s time. Thanks for the inspiration, Phil.
    .-= Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..Meaning Mondays: Life As A Quilt Edition =-.

  14. April 21, 2010 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Phil, thank you so much for this post and also your warm comment on my blog. What a helpful, straightforward approach you have outlined. For me, awareness has always been the key. Once I honestly look at something that clearly needs to be changed, shifting it begins to happen.

    I would like to add that changing your physical surroundings, even if only for a few minutes or a few hours, can really help to change ingrained habits. We learn so much through our sensory experiences and our physical connections. The condition of our body deeply affects how we think and feel and good habits can be stimulated and supported just from breathing and feeling refreshed in our limbs and cells.

    This is an inspiring post, Phil, on a very important topic. Many thanks and greetings from the mountains of Japan – Catrien Ross.
    .-= Catrien Ross´s last blog ..Catrien Ross on Getting Unstuck By Gently Letting Go =-.

  15. April 21, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if you can call this a bad habit or not. I tend to let my emails accumulate. I have thousands and thousands of unread emails. Lately, I have tried to make feeble attempts at trying to clear them. I think I need a more focused effort.
    .-= Evelyn Lim´s last blog ..7 Daily Inspiration Messages To Kick Off Your Week =-.

  16. Phil
    April 21, 2010 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    @Amit – or should I say Mr. Cadbury! I’m impressed that you kicked caffeine – that is one tough one for me. I’ve cut down to three cups a day (used to be about 15!). This is one where I play the moderation card for now. Perhaps after the internet is kicked into touch, that is next for me. Let me know when you have a good habit to introduce.. always fun.

    @Baker – what is your motivation for making this change? If you can get clear on the benefits and how important this is, it will help the process of change. What are the first small steps you can take to make this happen? I know that with your thoughtful approach to life, you can follow the steps and make a new good eating habit.

    @Belinda – i know you can do it. It is great to practice first to take those first small steps. These things should always be guilt free – as long as you have the right intention, how can you go wrong. We all fall off the wagon sometimes, it is how we respond that counts. Enjoy the extra hours!

    @Rob – i love your replacement theory. I think there will still be times for forceful, however kind and gentle often works a lot better. Try working through these steps and see if that can help you make your new approach to the world stick. Good luck.

    @Farnoosh – I’d love to chat someday – I thought your post on gardening was wonderful. Listening is all about giving the other person the respect that you’d deserve. Everyone wants to be heard, and it is a great gift to do that for someone. I suggest that you approach every conversation as thought the other person is the most important in the world. Ask good open questions, then shut up and really listen. Watch yourself and don’t interrupt. Stay focused on their words and quieten the mind. Practice paraphrasing what you heard back, and check that you got it right. Listen some more. Trust your intuition about what the other person is really saying at a deeper level. As you get better at this, and practice you’ll find the quality of your conversations goes through the roof and people gravitate to you. As you can tell I’m passionate about listening (I’m a coach and listen for a living).

    @Angela – welcome to LOL and great to hear from you. I know you can make the change. Follow the 5 step plan and you’re prepared to make it happen. For early morning exercise, finding an exercise partner is a great way to enjoy it, and more importantly be accountable. Leaving someone at the gym at 6am does not play well! Enjoy the beautiful summer mornings and happy exercising. Keep us all posted on how it goes.

    @Steven – Welcome to the blog and great to hear from you. I started my new habit yesterday and got SO much more done in my day. I realized the benefit of cutting out surfing is that I have so much time for other things (like writing blog posts, replying to comments). Get clear on the benefits of change and how that will make your life better and you’ll find the motivation and courage to cut out the internet (except LOL of course :-) )

    @Patty – 30 minutes in the garden every day – what a beautiful gift to give yourself. I’ve started growing some food now, and that incents me out there every day to check those tomatoes! Fingers crossed the climate in London is up to it! Enjoy the sunshine in California!

    @Catrien – Appreciate your kind words. I agree that awareness and focus are really the key – that is why a 5 step process that is clearly worked through is so powerful. Please keep producing your poetry and keep reading LOL.

    @Evelyn – Emails can really suck our time and energy if we let them. Ask yourself what it is costing you to have this email problem? What is causing this – a resistance to letting go? What is this attracting to you – more email, more time sucked up? What would your life look like without this email in it? I often urge my clients to just mass delete all their emails – it is radical, but they are all history and relationships continue into the future. Good luck working through this and clearing your life!

  17. April 21, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    I’m a big fan of The Inner Game of Tennis as well. Perhaps, figure out what the bad habit is keeping us from doing. What else is that keeping me from or what is it leading me toward in a strange way? Kinda view them as teachers.

    Excellent post! G.
    .-= Giulietta the Muse´s last blog ..Do you live a permission-based life? =-.

  18. Dereck
    February 4, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    where can i find someone to hold me accountable? i was thinking of getting an online coach to support me when i have this impulse to surf the net, but i can’t find one anywhere

    thank you

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