Habits: How to Eliminate Bad Habits That Are Holding You Back

by Gideon Hanekom
August 25, 2015

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Habits can help us or hurt us. If you think about it, most of the results in our lives are merely the sum of our habits; thoughts, emotions, actions, behaviours, choices and so on.

It is as Brian Tracey once said, “Successful people are simply those with successful habits.”

Changing your life, therefore, is more about adopting and eliminating helpful and unhelpful habits than being lucky, being smart or whatever other stories we’re telling ourselves about the quality of our current results.

But in this post, you will learn a few simple strategies to use habits to start turning things around in your life.

We all have habits that are hurting us.

What is a habit though?

According to Google, a habit can be defined as:

A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

Dictionary, Google.com

Your habit may be as small as biting your nails or buying expensive coffees every day.

On the more extreme side of things, you may wish to break free of smoking, anger issues, excessive overeating, or other destructive habits.

The good news is, there are ways to deal with habits that are holding you back.

Use these strategies below that will show you how to eliminate bad habits that are holding you back once and for all:

Get a big enough WHY.

None of our human behaviour is random. 

Everything we do is done for a reason. 

The reason is usually to avoid some form of “pain” (usually psychologically and emotionally in nature) or obtain some kind of pleasure/gain. 

Once we perceive a certain action to cause too much pain, we tend to cease that behaviour. 

As long as we downplay the cost of certain behaviour in our minds, we will continue that behaviour or pattern. 

An important first step in ceasing any bad habit that might be hurting you is considering the cost of perpetuating that pattern in the now.

Not someday, but now. 

What does it cost me and others right now? 

Think about how your habit hurts you and others.

Does it harm your health?

Make you look old?

Put a major dent in your bank account?

Does it make you act irrationally?

Does it hurt your kids?

Create a list of the cost of your current “bad habits” to you and those you love right now. 

Make it as painful as possible, in order to create leverage. 

Also, create a list of major benefits that you’ll experience when you replace these habits permanently. 

Find a reason to remove that detrimental habit in your life and hammer that thought into your mind each time you want to continue with it.

What’s the pot at the end of the rainbow?

Naturally, when there is a direct reward at the end of your pursuit, you’re more inclined to give a wholehearted effort. 

The only way to adopt a new empowering habit is by positive reinforcement. 

Creating leverage through pain is an initial step that is quite powerful. 

But to maintain a new habit you need more.

Conditioning any new habit or pattern of behaviour, therefore, is essential.

Coming up with ways to reward yourself immediately after you exercised and new habit or behaviour, is crucial. 

Reinforcement relies on the element of timing

When you reward or  “punish” yourself too long after a certain behaviour, the brain can’t make the association or connection between behaviour and consequence. 

This makes it very hard for your brain to create a neural association that will serve new habits on a subconscious level moving forward. 

This means, you will constantly have to rely on willpower to make good choices while trying to overcome bad habits. 

This is not a good strategy. 

Therefore reward yourself in small ways, but consistently, right after you exercise or engage in positive patterns of behaviour/habits moving forward.

This will create neural connections or pathways for new habits over time.

Furthermore, ensure that your reward is “foreign” to your habit.

If you’re trying to quit over-eating, it’s pointless to reward yourself with a whole chocolate cake at the end of each week for being “disciplined.”

The reward should be in line with the complexity of your task.

Rewarding yourself with a cruise around the world because you’ve stopped biting your nails is a bit of a stretch.

However, rewarding yourself with a night out might be in order.

Save the biggest rewards for last.

What do you really want?

What’s something you’ve wished you could have or experience for a long time?

Spend the time you would normally spend indulging in your habit to plan your great reward or experience.

Small incremental steps.

Focus on only one small step each day or week to ensure long-lasting results.

For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, remove bread from your diet for the first week.

The next week eliminate other carbs, like pasta, in addition to bread.

If you’re trying to minimise your spending, determine the average amount you spend each week in unnecessary purchases.

Then set a goal to reduce that amount by 10% for the first week. 

Then 20% then next and so on.

Find models and learn from them.

Read books or browse the web to learn from those that have previously been in your shoes and conquered the same habits and achieve the results you desire.

Habits feed our basic human need for certainty. 

They give us a feeling of control over our circumstances.

However, negative patterns can also fill this void and feed this need. 

They will hurt you, but you’ll stick to them. 

You need to break that partnership. 

See bad habits for what they are and employ patterns of behaviour that actually serve your life.

You are the boss of your mind, body, and results.

Start today. 

Make a new decision. 

Raise your standards of what you will tolerate in your life and stick to that. 

You deserve it and so does your loved ones.

If you want to learn 3 more easy steps to break unhealthy habits, check out this article.

About the author 

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a renowned relationship blog that ranked among the top 50 relationship blogs and top 100 marriage blogs in 2021. The blog is dedicated to providing valuable insights on cultivating healthy relationships and love in daily life. Gideon holds a Master's degree in theological studies and transitioned into professional counseling almost a decade ago. In addition, he completed graduate and post-graduate studies in Psychology at Massey University. With over seventeen years of marriage to his wife and two children, Gideon brings both professional and personal experience to his relationship advice. His articles have been featured on respected platforms such as Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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