I have been reading Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear, and I must say, it is fascinating.
Old habits can be some of the most difficult challenges to overcome in life. As we work towards our new and improved habits, we have a tendency to go back to what feels familiar and what we have been doing for much of our lives.
While some of these habits may be mild such as biting our nails or eating dinner in front of the television, some of them can be incredibly harmful such as drug usage, gambling, or any other habit that leads to physical and mental harm.
Habits are hard to break because they are deeply wired into our minds. We have been doing them for so long and have used them as a scapegoat that we resort back to them any time we feel mildly uncomfortable.
But as challenging as bad habits may be to break, it’s not impossible. In fact, it may not even be as challenging as you may think.
In reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results, I want to share with you what I have learned so far. These strategies aren’t just opinion-based. They have been scientifically studied and have been proven to be effective. Here are # steps for how to break bad habits and change behaviors.
How to Break Bad Habits and Change Behaviors
1. Identify certain cues.
I used to be a person who chewed tobacco. Growing up in a small town, chewing tobacco was something that was common for guys my age, even before you were legally able to buy it. But the real cue for me came when I would walk into a hockey rink. I don’t know what it was about being in a hockey arena, but every time I walked in, I always reached for the tobacco in my pocket and put in a chew.
It’s rather disgusting to think about it now, but that’s how it was.
The goal of identifying cues isn’t to just say you’re not going to do something in a certain environment. Thee goal of identifying cues is to change your thinking about that environment. For me, that meant changing my thoughts about hockey rinks. Why did I feel the urge to chew tobacco when I was in there? How could I overcome that urge? Things of that nature. This leads me to the next point.
2. Change how you associate bad habits.
Again, whatever the reason was for why I felt the urge to chew tobacco in a hockey rink is beyond me, but one of the things that helped me quit was to change how I looked at these habits.
With tobacco, I quit cold turkey. After doing it for two years straight, I just decided one day to stop. It’s because I changed how I looked at tobacco. No longer did I think of it as something to do simply because I was bored or need to do it because I was stressed. Instead, I started focusing on the negative effects of tobacco and let that reshape my mind. For starters, it was a big waste of money. I’m talking $150 every month. Second, it was terrible for my health. I was putting myself at risk of gum disease and cancer. And lastly, no girl would ever find that attractive.
By changing the thoughts that I associated tobacco with, I was able to stop. One day I just simply said enough is enough, threw everything away, and haven’t done it since.
3. Change your environment.
Another great way to break bad habits and change behaviors is to change your environment. We are an average of the five people we spend the most time around. This means that if you spend your time around five alcoholics, there’s a good chance you will become the sixth. If you spend time around five people who use tobacco, there’s a good chance you will become the sixth.
But the opposite is true as well. If you have developed a bad habit and spend time with five individuals who don’t have that habit, you are 50% more likely to break that habit.
For me, I suppose growing up it didn’t help that a lot of the guys my age were doing it, but as soon as I started changing who I was spending the vast majority of my time around, it made it easier to stop. Example: quitting in the summer was easy because there were not many hockey rinks open, but when I walked into a hockey rink and saw old friends, it made the cravings come back.
This doesn’t mean that you have to avoid certain environments altogether, but you should until you are able to change what you associate them to. I can go into a hockey rink now and have zero cravings, but that’s because I have changed old thoughts with new ones such as watching a game I love, spending time with sports fanatics like me, and just being in a place I basically grew up in.
4. Keep it simple.
If you try to go all-in, your chances of success are going to significantly decrease. While tobacco was one that I was able to get away with, there are other bad habits that I have developed that I have tried to quit on a moment’s notice and have had a difficult time doing so because of how challenging it is.
My advice for you isn’t to try and change something overnight. It’s to develop a plan, create supporting actions, and keep it simple.
Let’s say for example that you want to get into better shape. You aren’t going to start out by lacing up your shoes and going for a 10-mile run. You would be incredibly sore the next morning and would attribute that pain to running. That pain alone may be enough to cause you to never do it again.
But if you start slow and ease your way into it, all of a sudden your body starts to slowly develop and build thee adequate muscle needed to run. After a few short weeks, you will feel more energized and bee able to go longer distances without much struggle.
Habits take time to develop and habits take time to break. Don’t force yourself to go all-in hoping for the best. Set yourself up for success by keeping it simple and going easy on yourself.
5. Write down a plan and build rules.
You are far more likely to break bad habits and develop good habits if you take the time to write down the actions you are trying to change and create rules to support more positive behaviors.
The reason these two strategies are effective is due to the fact that when you write down behaviors you want to change, you won’t ever forget them, and when you stack new habits onto other habits that you already follow consistently, they become one and you will have an easier time following through with them.
Use the template that Clear lays out to help you understand:
After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEEED].
So let’s say you want to get better at doing push-ups and make it your mission to do 100 per day. You could break it down to something like: After I get up from my desk to take a break, I will do 25 push-ups. Or it could be something like: each time I get up to go to the bathroom, I will immediately do 10 pushups until I reach 100.
When you add improved habits onto already existing habits, you will have a much easier time breaking bad habits and changing your behaviors.
Before You Go
Is it hard to break bad habits and change behaviors? It certainly can be. But if you use these 5 proven tips that Clear discusses throughout his book, you will be able to break bad behaviors with more ease. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself.