Why advice about habits is misunderstood.
I’ve tried many different ways to break my bad habits. But none of the conventional tips and tricks brought me lasting success.
We try the weirdest things to get rid of our bad habits. And we blindly believe every single person who gives us advice on the topic.
The most popular advice is this: “Replace a bad habit with a good one.”
It’s wrong. It doesn’t work.
I’ve discovered a much more effective way of changing our lives by changing our habits. I’d love to share it with you. But first, let’s ask ourselves a question.
What’s A Bad Habit?
To me, everything we do that doesn’t have a positive return is a bad habit. Sometimes, it’s what we don’t do that’s the bad habit. For example, I consider laziness as a bad habit.
If you’re too lazy to get out of bed in the morning, clean your house, or go to the gym; you’re not a worthless person—you simply have a bad habit that you need to get rid of.
That’s how I look at most unproductive behavior. I’m not saying that everyone has the same ideas about the meaning of life. But if you, like me, believe that the purpose of life is to be useful, you need the right habits to back that up.
Simply put, anything that prevents you from being useful is a bad habit. We all know that a lot of our behavior is bad. It doesn’t require a genius to understand that eating junk food, smoking, drinking alcohol, complaining, watching the news, browsing social media, lashing out at people, and sitting on your ass all day are bad things.
They have no positive return. No one feels good after doing those things. And yet, we keep sticking to our bad habits because we can’t break them.
Advice About Habits Is Misunderstood
What’s the best way to form a habit? I’ve been researching that question for more than a decade. And I’ve tried every piece of advice that I’ve read about.
I’ve learned that you’re more likely to actually form a habit when you focus on ONE habit at a time. To be honest, that’s not a groundbreaking finding. Every single person who writes about habits will tell you that.
But as humans often do, we’ll blindly assume that the same is true for BREAKING habits.
However, it doesn’t work that way. I only discovered that recently. I will tell you more about that in a minute.
Here’s something else that I’ve learned recently. We have the ability to form more than one habit at a time.
“What?! So I don’t need to focus on one habit at a time?”
The most common criticism that I’ve heard about the “form one habit at a time” idea is that it takes “forever” to change your life. I think there’s some truth in that. Given that it sometimes takes months to form a habit, it can take years to build a foundation of good habits that support your goals.
To be honest, that’s not my biggest concern. Like the cliché says, patience is a virtue. And I think we all need to be more patient. Good things come in time.
But that’s not the problem most people face with habits. Most of us give up before we actually have formed a habit. And if we quit a good habit, we often fall back to our old (bad) behavior before the season changes.
You Need A More Extreme Approach
Look, I’m not saying that replacing bad habits with good habits is bad advice. The problem is that most of us only apply that advice to one habit at a time.
And yes, that does not work.
Think about it. If you drink alcohol every day and eat unhealthy food, what will happen if you quit drinking? If you continue to eat candy bars, salted nuts, potato chips, burgers, pizza, it will not take long before you think “a beer would sure taste nice with this burger.”
If you’re addicted to consuming content on social media and watching tv shows, you can’t “just” get rid of your social media apps on your phone. If you have a tv, you’ll simply binge watch some crap on Netflix. And before you know it, you’ll reinstall those apps with one click. Most of the time, you can pick up right where you left off. You don’t even have to sign in again.
Don’t go down that road. Instead, be committed to change. If you truly want to break your bad habits, go extreme on yourself. Yes, I’m actually saying you should take it seriously. Why? Because your life is a serious matter.
Remember this: If you want to break your bad habits, BREAK THEM ALL AT THE SAME TIME.
Go all in. Or don’t go at all.
What We Need Is A Different Lifestyle
It all comes down to one question. How serious are you about living a purposeful life?
I’ve asked myself that question many times in the past. And every now and then, I still have to ask myself that. Falling back on bad habits happens for a reason.
Life is hard. We experience setbacks, stress, and hurt all the time. And our natural reaction is to escape our challenges. Every time we say things like “I need to relax with a glass of wine on the couch,” we’re fooling ourselves.
We’re trying to escape the desperation of life. Inside, we feel lonely and empty. And we try to fill it with bullshit. Now, that bullshit is different for every person.
I might crack open a bag of potato chips and watch a movie, you might be on the phone all night with your friends, another person might hit the nightclub to pop pills, and another one might buy the latest gadget.
But if you want to make a contribution and make yourself useful during the little time you’ve been granted on this planet, you and I both need a different lifestyle.
We need to take care of our body and mind. We need to sleep well, eat healthy, work out, read books, reflect on our lives, and most importantly: Be someone others can count on. You can’t do that with bad habits.
Think about how serious you are about living a meaningful life. Then, identify the habits that are holding you back. If you’re looking for inspiration, I’ve created a list of 11 unproductive habits that I’ve quit in the past.
Once you’ve identified your bad habits, decide to quit them ALL. And decide that RIGHT NOW.
Now, all of a sudden, you’re a new man or woman. You’ve been given a clean slate. You can form new habits. This article with a few practical tips to form habits might help.
Remember earlier, when I said that you don’t have to form only one habit at a time? What I meant was that if you quit ALL your bad habits, you have the mental ability to form more than one habit at a time.
There’s only one limitation: Focus on one habit per area of your life. To me, the areas are career, health, learning, money, and relationships.
For your career, you might want to show up earlier every day. For your health, you can run every day. For learning, you can spend an hour a day on learning a new skill. For your relationships, you can practice kindness. For your money, you can save 20% of your income.
And yes, you can do all those things. Why not? But remember, your chance of success decreases when you try to take on too much. Can you learn multiple skills at the same time? Can you save money for your retirement and buy a new car? Maybe, but you’ll be much more successful if you do just one thing at a time.
We can achieve many great things in life. We only need the right habits to support us.