How to Break Bad Habits - And Create Good Ones That Stick

Let me share a story about James with you. James liked to run from an early age, and it was a passion for him. By the time, James reached high school and then college, he was a track athlete who had won two medals and was now competing at state level.
But one day while doing his practice run in the snow, James slipped and got hurt - He tore a ligament following which he was told that he couldn't run competitively anymore. This was a pretty big change for James that led to more than him just quitting the sport. He developed some pretty bad habits that started hurting him and others around him.
Following the injury, James start to feel unmotivated. He used to spend most of his time either at work or watching sports on tv. But, he continued to eat like an athlete this time, and because he wasn't running track, he started to put on a lot of weight. During this time, he also started drinking beer every day and there was a time when he would drink a 6-pack in an evening.
While his family was initially understanding and supportive, as James unhealthy lifestyle continued and his alcohol problem got worse, it started to impact his relationship and family life too.
Now this whole time, James was aware of how his behavior was sabotaging his health and his relationships. He wanted to change, and tried multiple times, but each time he couldn't change his habits.
When James tried to be more physically active, he was not only limited by his physical injury but also motivation, and after a few days of being more active, he would always take a step-back... sometimes because he was too busy with work, and other times because the bad weather kept him from going on his walks.
The stress was also a big barrier in him eating healthy - despite all his efforts to eating healthy, he would often engage in stress eating and would feel guilty afterwards before giving up. Similarly, when he tried to stop drinking altogether 3 times, but after feeling stressed or having an argument at home, he sought comfort of a glass of scotch, and relapsed.
Now James did eventually succeed in changing his habits for good - he was able to get back to his healthy lifestyle, his mood and energy levels improved, and he was able to limit his drinking to social events only, but first he needed to figure out why his efforts were not giving him the results that he wanted.

Bad habits are like chains that are too light to feel, until they are too heavy to carry.
Warren Buffet

Visualize your end goal

The first step that helped James was to visualize his goal by creating a pretty elaborative description of what his end-goal was. He wrote a story of what his life was going to look like when he had started doing some physical activity again - how he would feel in his body, and how it would impact his mood and his energy levels. He wrote about what he would be doing in his evenings when he is not drinking - what else will be bringing him joy and relaxation. He also went into details of how those habits instead of drinking would impact his relationship with his wife and his kids, and what his home environment looked like.
So that's the first step - Visualize your goal
Now this might feel like a fairly simple and worthless point, but rather this step is the foundation for success. This visualization lays the foundation of your motivation that you will need to lean on when you slip-up along the way, which you will, or when you start to feel discouraged or start having doubts along the way, which you also will.
This visual that you create will initially help you get clarity on what is it that you're working towards, and how are you going to get there. But this visual is what will also help you stay on that path through all the hurdles and obstacles.
And there are mainly three reasons why this step of visualizing your goals is so powerful:
  1. First, it helps you with focusing on what you are working towards vs. what you are running away from.
  2. Second, it helps you visualize the path to get to those goals
  3. And third, it reinforces what life will look like at that point when you achieve your goals, and why all this effort is worth it.

Plan and practice the alternate behavior

And actually, hidden in this first step was the second step that James took towards his path to success - that lead him to successfully replace his bad habits with new, healthier habits.
And that step is to make a plan for alternative behavior plan. Remember when I was talking about the story that James wrote, that he went into a lot of details of what he would be doing instead.
So rather than being lazy, how will focused on what his daily physical activity looks like. And instead of not drinking alcohol, what will he be doing to relax and enjoy in evenings. And instead of not fighting with his wife, how will he be bonding and improving communication with her.
I personally believe that this step in fact is the most powerful of all 3 steps, even tho they all are important for success. Creating an alternate plan is in fact the only way James started to develop new neural connections in his brain that his brain started to use a lot more. This meant that he started to do these behaviors more, and the old habits started to die out on their own.
Now one thing that I would like to add here is that whatever new habits you try to implement and practice, measure them. If you are trying to loose weight, then keep a track of what you eat. If you are trying to be physically more active, then keep a track of your daily physical activity
Remember, what gets measured gets improvement. When you measure something, it becomes your daily bite of motivation - you want to succeed towards that tiny goal for that day, that's within your grasp. It keeps you from being lazy on day-to-day basis, or defaulting back to your old habits.
And of course, over time, the longer you keep measuring and keep engaging in these new behavior, more they start to become your actual real habits

Repetition and persistence

And this in fact ties into the third step that James' grandfather shared with him. During their talk, James' grandfather told him that he had seen many people try to set goals and work towards those goals for a few days, and then give-up.
He prepared him for relapses and slip-ups, but he told him that the moment he decides to give-up, he will be back to square one
But those are actually moments when you can learn about your triggers - what caused that slip-up? What things make your brain go back to the old habits - and once you know about these triggers - you will be better prepared to avoid them or deal with them in a different way next time.
From my own personal experience, I can know that it can feel like your efforts are not leading to any success when you slip-up, but the truth in fact is that these slip-ups are a very important part of the learning process - these slip-ups might be uncomfortable when they happen, but with each slip-up you actually get a chance to take a step closer to your goals.
With each slip-up, your brain is fighting between the old habits and new habits... and yes, sometimes your brain will take the route of the old habits, but if you keep bringing your mind gently to the new route - if you keep going at your new habits, you keep training your brain to keep developing these new habits, and keep forgetting your old habits.
So remember that persistence because the truth is that you can succeed at pretty much any goal if you stick with it long enough. Whether that goal is tied to your dreams and passions, or that goal is tied to unlearning bad habits, and building new healthy habits to replace them.
Now of course being disciplined to resist the million temptations along the way can make this process easier and faster for you. And I did make a separate video on discipline vs. temptations, so if you haven't already, then check that video out.

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