A bad habit is a pattern of behaviour that sabotages you somehow. The language associated with habit change is that you want to start a good habit and break a bad one.
Breaking a habit assumes that the problem is with the habit, but really, it’s about your beliefs, triggers and actions about what this habit will give you.
The author of Better than Before, Gretchen Rubin, has the ultimate solution – to outgrow a bad habit.
When you outgrow a bad habit, it means you have evolved and grown as a person. You can now see that the behaviour sabotages your current goals and no longer belongs in your life.
How do you usually approach a tangled cable or necklace? You don’t break it, but you unravel each knot carefully until you have successfully disentangled it.
In the same way, this is how you need to think about your bad habits. Imagine you want to stop drinking wine during the week because it interferes with your health goals. Here are seven ways to untangle this habit (of course, insert the habit you would like to stop doing if this does not apply to you):
Identify the trigger.
The starting point of dissecting a bad habit is identifying your trigger. What is the prompt that is triggering you to do the activity? It could be a time of day, a location, a situation or an emotion.
With the example of drinking wine, could it be because it’s 5 pm, when you arrive at your brother’s house or because you are feeling very upset or stressed? It may be a combination, but one trigger catapults you into action.
Can you do a habit audit over the next week to become aware of what triggers you? This behaviour may be so ingrained into your daily routine that it is no longer a decision but a habit. You do it without consciously thinking about it.
Once you can identify the starting point, you can prevent the rest of the domino effect.
Recognise the secondary gain.
A secondary gain is any behaviour you want to stop doing that has a positive intent. You want to stop wine, but it makes you feel calm and gives you a sense of control over your world. Although the intent to drink is positive, it is a false sense of control and sabotages your health goals by affecting your sleep and making it harder to wake up to exercise.
Identify the behaviour you want to stop and get curious. Ask yourself – what is making this hard to do? What is the obstacle?
Perhaps you procrastinate on doing an important presentation. The secondary gain is protecting you from the fear of being judged or not being perfect when you try to tackle the task. It doesn’t have to make logical sense; this is why habits are such an intricate topic.
Once you have identified the secondary gain, ask yourself:
How would accomplishing this goal meet my needs in a healthier and more empowered way?
When you can place your habit under a microscope and get clarity on why you keep it around, you will begin to see the secondary gain for what it is – a false sense of comfort and control.