What to Do when I Catch Myself Slipping into Old Bad Habits?
Congrats. Catching yourself is 80% of the job.
Most people most of the time don’t notice slipping into old bad habits. If they realize it at all, it happens when they are knee-deep in s**t, and they frantically attempt to get themselves out of the situation.
OK, there are several things you can do, and you should do them more or less in this order:
What the heck happened? Why have you landed in this oh-so-familiar-yet-undesirable state? What went wrong?
There are many possible causes, and you should go over them:
-your willpower or energy level were low;
-the old cue triggered the old behavior on autopilot;
-you very deliberately sank into the old habit, because you craved the reward so much;
-you didn’t consciously focus on your new routine, so the old one sneaked upon you.
And so on.
2. Track and Measure.
If you don’t already have any kind of tracking tool for your habit(s), devise a tracking strategy for this specific behavior. That way, you will notice slipping into a bad habit faster, and you can counterattack faster as well.
Depending which one is the case — developing a better habit or breaking an old one — you may use totally different tools.
All kinds of journals and logs work well for both cases, but they are better for getting rid of habits. Journaling focuses your attention on the bad habit, and it’s the lack of attention and automatic mindless behaviors that lead you into troubles most of the time.
3. Avoid Old Triggers.
I was so proud of myself that I quit on reading fiction in excess and playing computer games. I was an addict of both, but gaming was especially harmful. I even played at the office!
Of course, when pride appears, most of the time it is false. Only after a few years and gaining a ton of knowledge about habits did I realize that I simply avoided my old triggers. I didn’t do anything else. My trigger for both of those activities was boredom that came from lack of purpose. I felt my life was not significant, I felt existential emptiness, so I anesthetized myself with reading and gaming.
However, since September 2012, I started seriously rebuilding my life and I felt purposeful almost all the time. I had no time for boredom.
Old triggers disappeared, so old habits disappeared as well.
Identify what triggers your bad habit, and try to eliminate the cue from your life.
Alright, those three tips were quick remedies. Here comes solutions that are more long-term and sustainable.
4. Replace the Routine.
Eliminating the cue is not a long-term strategy. Your habits, good and bad, will stay with you for the end of your life. It’s their nature. They are hardcoded in your brain. You need a lobotomy to get rid of them for good.
I stopped reading fiction in excess, but when I read fiction in the last few years (dozen of books or so), the old pattern came back. When I was a teenager, my sole pastime was reading. I read all the time.
When I got a good book, I usually wolfed it in one sitting, unless I had some serious life obstacles (like going to school). ;) The same repeated in the last few years. Whenever I got a good book in my hands, everything else got brushed aside. I’m crazy busy with my family, church community, day job and authorpreneurship but somehow, miraculously, I always found 5–12 hours in 1–3 days to finish reading a book.
The only way to deal with a bad habit for good is to replace, by a conscious design and focused effort, one routine with another.
First, you identify the trigger that releases the habit. Second, every time the trigger occurs, you intentionally execute a new habit and finish it with an endpoint identical or very similar with the old routine. So, if you smoke cigarettes to alleviate stress, you may try replacing smoking with meditation.
Sometimes, you don’t need a conscious effort to change your habit, but this usually happens only with bad habit replacing another bad habit. My gaming and fiction reading provided me with some escape from reality and feeling that I accomplished something. With my life rebuilt, I had no time for my old vices, but my brain still craved those feelings, especially if I was exhausted or frustrated (a trigger to escape from reality).
So, this sneaky bastard developed another, much shorter routine. Now, when I feel I need a break or want to feel that my efforts are indeed significant, I check my stats: Kindle sales, paperback sales, affiliate sales, Medium views, Quora views, traffic on my blog, and so on. And I ended up with another less-than-profitable routine. At least I haven’t played computer games in years.
5. Double Down on New Good Habits.
This strategy starves our bad habits. If you can truly develop a new habit, it must take some space in your life and in your mind. As long as it will stay active, it will steal the space for your bad habits.
I achieved my life transformation by developing dozens and dozens of new habits. I didn’t ruminate what triggers my wrong behaviors. I didn’t painstakingly rebuild the old routines. In fact, I had no idea about habit science, including how the habit loop looked. Half by accident and half by design, I discovered a great framework to build new habits and I focused on developing them.
Suddenly, I had no time for my destructive behaviors. What is more, habits determine who you are as the etymology of the word suggests.
The word “habit” comes from the Old French abit, habit, from Latin habitus “condition, appearance,” from habere “have, consist of.” The term originally meant “dress, attire,” and the noun “habit” meant a monk’s outfit. The habit was an external sign of a monk’s internal constitution, which defined their whole life. Later the meaning of this word drifted to denote physical or mental constitution.
When you rebuild your habits, you rebuild your personality and identity as well. In a big part, I became a new person. Fiction words and artificial accomplishments are no longer alluring for me.
6. Get Back on Track Immediately.
“Fall down seven times, get up eight.” — Japanese proverb
I purposefully left it for the end, because this is the most important and significant thing when you slip into an old habit. This should be your step #0.
First you correct yourself; you actually DO the right thing to erase from your mind a feeling, the bad taste, and moral hiccup. And then you can analyze, reflect, and plan to the fullest.
The biggest danger when you catch yourself slipping is not the return of the bad habit; it’s the feeling of guilt. It steers you into very stupid decisions. You wail in self-pity or you beat yourself to death. It’s totally pointless. The moment of your failure is not a good time for an internal debate.
Take action. Do some damage control. Put yourself together. Only then start any internal debate about your wrongdoing.
Remember, you really fail only if you don’t get up after your fall. The pitiful state of being down and not doing anything about it is what you should verily dread. Lying down and complaining or loathing yourself gets you nowhere.
Get up. Get back on track.
Originally published at www.quora.com.