How do You Break a Habit (Habit, Part 4)

How do you break a habit? Trick question. Sort of. You don’t break habits. To break a habit means to focus on NOT doing something. That’s a difficult task indeed. “Stop smoking.” What? How? The statement makes me focus entirely on what? On smoking. That is not useful. What you focus on expands. It’s a neurological rule. Don’t think about pink elephants. It’s just how our brains work. Which means – to focus on “not doing” a habit is to focus more upon the habit.

How do you break a habit? You don’t. A habit is a little like a muscle. The most effective thing I have seen is to let it atrophy. How does a muscle atrophy? Non-use.

How do you break a habit? You build a new one. A different one. One that takes your attention and your energy and your enthusiasm and your time somewhere else. Away from the old habit.

Let’s say your habit is ice cream every night. Or TV every night. Or going to bed too late every night. Or having a glass of wine every night. Have I included everyone?

What is the new habit you could build that would take your attention away from this repetitive behavior? I don’t know what it will be for you. Experiment. Get an accountability partner. Remember in my last blog where my dad was helping my mom create a new way of walking – he just pointed out the old way every time he saw it and she shifted to the new way.




And a sense of humor.

A couple tips:

1. Think about what you get from the old habit. Let’s take TV every night. Maybe it helps you relax. So in searching for a new habit, please remember to acknowledge that you need to relax. Otherwise you would not have this relaxation habit. Be nice to yourself. Your habits serve a purpose. The question now is what else would relax you? That might be a good new habit to try.

2. Connect your new habit to an old entrenched habit that works for you. Let’s say you eat dinner every night with your family and your new habit is to play a board game with your child, or go swimming, or go for a walk. Each night, right after dinner, do the new habit. Research indicates that connecting a new habit with an engrained old habit helps you to engrain the new habit.

3. Consider a new habit that makes it impossible to do the old habit. If there is a certain time of night you watch TV, consider being out of the house or out of the room so it is not possible to watch TV at that time. You won’t have to do it forever. Eventually, being home at 7pm and watching TV will no longer go together in your mind.

4. Get an accountability partner. Tell people what you are doing. Lots of people. Tell especially one person who will ask you every day or every week whether you stuck to your plan.

Try it.

And let us know!

About the Author

Picture of Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching professionals and leaders since early 2008. She runs Transformative Coaching Essentials, a coach training program that produces first rate Professional Coaches and "Coach-Style Leaders." She coaches individually and works with organizations to improve communication, time management, productivity and ultimately bring greater results.

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