Changing bad habits into better ones is something we all want to do.
Consider your time management. How many minutes do you feel are wasted each day because of the way you habitually run your life?
If you're less than satisfied with the honest answer to that one, perhaps its time to consider how your habits affect your work-life balance.
Changing bad habits into better ones is the key to spending more time on important stuff that is so easily ignored and less time on ‘busy’ work that is so tempting to tick off but gets you nowhere.
Forming a habit that serves you takes time, or, more accurately, plenty of repetitive action for it to take root in your life.
Here are four strategies to successfully break your bad habits and replace them with those that support a more effective and efficient way to live and work:
Changing bad habits takes awareness and concentration, but this can soon become diluted if you attempt to tackle more than one at a time.
Within the realms of reality, focus your efforts on the one habit you’ve decided to change, and see it through to the end. (See below for an explanation of 'the end'.)
Example: Let's say you want to improve your time management at work. (Who doesn't?) Narrow it down to deal with one issue, such as managing interruptions.
You need to know it’s a bad habit before you can replace it. How do you do this? Well, a little thought and reflection go a long way, but the bottom line is the results you’re getting. For better or worse, what we experience is the result of what we repeatedly do.
Analyze the effects of your way of working. Try keeping a time log to help you identify how you use your time.
Feeling brave? Another strategy for raising awareness is to simply ask others. Who knows you well enough to identify how your habits harm you? Ask them if you dare!
You have to recognize that a habit is harmful. If you don’t, what reason will there be to change anything? If changing bad habits matters to you, accepting that you choose to do it, whether it’s a conscious choice or not, is crucial to the process.
So you have decided to ditch a habit. What do you want to replace it with?
Of course, we all have bad habits we’re aware of -- it’s just that, for some reason, we keep repeating them.
For example, one that I personally struggle with is habitually going to bed later than I know is good for me. If I want to break the late habit, I need to know the latest time that I can go to bed and function well the next day.
Crystal clear clarity about what you want to do instead is crucial -- apply some personal goal setting strategies to help you build a better habit.
You’ve identified a bad habit and you know what you want to do instead.
Now comes the hard part.
As anybody who has joined a gym in January knows, motivation will wane. Passion, desire and good intentions all fan the flames at first, but... well, we’re human. With the best will in the world, we’re all lazy at times.
Bottom line here?
To break a bad habit and substitute it with something better starts with a desire for change, but it takes the slow burn of self-discipline, willpower and commitment to see you through the inevitable difficulties. Your chances of successfully changing bad habits are significantly increased if you don’t make ittoo difficult to do.
For example, say you want to wake up early consistently. If you usually get up at 8am, setting yourself a goal to get up at 5am every day from tomorrow isn’t going to happen.
Be realistic, and try the three methods outlined below.
To create a good habit, here are three methods that will leverage your initial motivation:
Trying to do too much too soon is often a recipe for failure. It’s not always necessary (or wise) to completely change a habit in one go, as the example above explains.
The main advantage is that you don’t feel overwhelmed with the burden of expectation. Break your challenge down into manageable chunks to reduce the resistance you feel.
Do it daily.
Whatever new habit you want to form, doing it consistently is crucial. A good way to ensure you do this is to create a ‘dot link’ page. Every day you ‘do’ your new habit, join the dots.
If you miss a day, don’t give up -- pick up again at the first opportunity to do so.
Put a limit on it.
The thought of changing bad habits permanently can be overwhelming. It’s often too hard to keep going, or to even start in the first place.
One way round this is to trial a habit. The general consensus of opinion is that a habit takes around 30 days to form.
Whichever you prefer, the point is that a limit on your commitment to take daily action doesn’t ‘hurt’ so much.
After the trial period you can go back to your old ways if things didn’t work out. The key word in that last sentence? After.
Commit to your new habit change -- it’s only temporary, right?
A temporary trial may have numerous benefits for changing bad habits, but it’s still a trial. Even though it’s a relatively short time period, and you should instigate easy changes at first, you can almost certainly expect something to happen that will make it hard to keep going. That's the point at which self discipline will see you through.
Choose a habit to break and replace, make it easy for yourself to implement it, commit to forming it for a limited time, and you'll have formed a better habit.
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Last week's TMS question results (Feb 20-26):
"When is it hardest to manage your time?"