Is there some bad habit that you want to quit but it seems to call you, lure you in, and then hold on tight while you feel powerless under its mighty grip?
There are so many things that can fit into that description like smoking, overeating, mindless TV, too much computer time, or too much of anything that feels like it controls you.
The other day, I was reading Ken Robert’s’ blog, Mildly Creative. He spoke about being authentic which really resonated with me. He also mentioned that he is trying to quit smoking.
I remember many years ago trying to quit smoking and how hard that was. It took me at least 3 tries before it stuck.
I tried using the nicotine gum that was fairly new then. Yuck. At the time, it really made me want to quit chewing gum but I still wanted to smoke. It took years before I could chew gum again. I’m sure it’s improved since then.
I’ll give you some ways that you can try to break habit in a moment but first there has to be a reason for you to quit something.
It’s worth taking the time to write down a compelling reason of why you want to break a habit. It’s not enough to make you stop wanting to do it but just saying, “I should” is enough to get your inner brat to say, “I don’t want to and you can’t make me.”
Maybe your compelling reason to is that you want to get healthy, or save money for a trip, live your dream, or spend more time with your family.
The more compelling, positive reasons you have, the more likely you are to continue making lasting changes. You may want to journal or find some images to remind you of your reasons.
Now, here are a couple of techniques you can try. The first one works really well for some people and not for others.
Try to make something seem distasteful or undesirable.
Here is an example. When I did finally quit smoking, one of my compelling reasons was how much money I would save if I didn’t smoke 2 packs a day. So, maybe you could imagine that each time you smoked a cigarette; you are smoking a dollar bill or a twenty dollar bill.
This method also depends on what you are trying to quit. If you are trying to lose weight, for example, you don’t want to make food seem “bad” or undesirable. Even dessert, because you’ll probably just want it more. (See my Atkins example below).
My favorite method for breaking a bad habit is Kaizen.
Kaizen is a Japanese term for making small, gradual changes or improvements.
The beauty of Kaizen is that it doesn’t send your brain into a panic mode. Trying to give up something, even if you really want to, is difficult when your brain is conditioned to do something.
With Kaizen, you choose a tiny step that feels absolutely possible.
We’ll stay with the example of quitting smoking. You might have ½ cigarette less for several days until you are ready to make another step. If that seems too hard, you might try ¼ less of a cigarette.
When you try to quit something cold turkey (what a funny saying), sometimes all you can think about is the thing you aren’t supposed to have or do.
I remember going on the Atkins diet, and after a few days, I was craving and dreaming of corn and carrots. I wasn’t that happy to gnaw on another slab of meat. At first it sounded so great that I could eat all the bacon and cheese I wanted but then I was immediately craving vegetables. Now what’s wrong with that picture?
A Kaizen approach to dieting might start with throwing away your the first bite of dessert. Waiting to leave the last bite may be too hard.
With Kaizen, you aren’t focusing on what you can’t do or have but instead making a small, doable, even trivial, step.
In Dr. Robert Maurer’s book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way , he gives the example of someone who wants to start exercising.
They began just marching in front of the TV for one minute a day.
It is basically saying a small yes rather than a big no. And then your mind is more receptive to the next small yes.
Taking the next step might mean one less cigarette a day or two minutes of marching in front of the TV.
It has to do with changing your thought process and creating new connections in your brain. As your thinking changes, your emotional response changes, and in turn your actions change.
So, how long will I have to live to make a lasting change?
I know what you are probably thinking. If I use this Kaizen method and make such small changes, I’ll be 150 years old before I change this bad habit.
When you are trying to make a change and get out of your comfortable patterns, your brain kicks into the fear response. Kaizen cleverly tip toes past the fear, allowing your brain to make new pathways and gain access to your cortex, which is the rational and creative part of your brain.
The interesting part is that once the mind’s resistance is lessened, you can make much bigger steps with greater ease.
Try it and let me know what happens. What do you have to lose?
Feel free to add your ideas and comments below.