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How Can I Reforge Negative Habits?

Often the struggles I face feel like they are permanent, and I’m going to suffer from them endlessly without hope of overcoming them. I’m getting better and better about working through them however, and I’d like to share some of the mindsets and techniques I’ve changed or begun implementing that have helped me the most. I’m sure my readers are problem-free and this won’t apply to any of them at all. Who really knows though, maybe I had a twin and we were separated at birth and he’s facing these same problems. Don’t worry, Evil Twin, we will get through this together.

When I speak of ‘struggles,’ I’m referring to the habits and behaviors that hurt us that we may not even realize we have. Habits like constantly putting yourself down, or procrastinating, or even something like sleeping through your alarm every day. Everyone has their own obstacles they face and whether they are big or small, they can be incredibly challenging to overcome. It’s a rare person who can wake up in the morning and decide “From this day forward, I’m never going to procrastinate again.” The reason these habits are so tough to break is that we do them without thinking (duh, habit) and so we often don’t even realize the habit is there in the first place.

I still have plenty of bad habits to work through but I have already defeated quite a few! Looking back through my experiences, these are some common changes I had to make to my thoughts, feelings and actions in order to alter my habits once and for all. In these examples I’ll use the next habit I plan to break and reforge- stop sleeping in every day.

Consider What I Want to Change-

You can’t change anything if you don’t know what it is you’re changing, right? This can be as deep or shallow a process as you want to make it. If you were to tell me “I want to wake up on time every day,” that’s great! You have a goal, and we can work with that. If you have the time or energy you could dig deeper and find out WHY you want to make this change. Using this example, it could be “I want to wake up on time every day BECAUSE my business depends on me starting my work when I say I will- when I start my day late, I miss calls and appear unreliable.” This method of assigning a reason (a WHY) gives your goal more relevance to everyday life than it otherwise might. If you’re following along with your own habit, jot down what you’re wanting to change and your WHY.

Mindset and Thoughts-

Consider the habit you wish to make or break. How do you feel about it? What are your thoughts when you think on it? If that’s confusing then think about the first thing someone else with your habit would say if you asked them to change it tomorrow. Continuing my sleeping-in example; When I think about waking up at six a.m. every day my first thoughts are “That’s so EARLY!” or “There is no way I could do that.” My initial feelings are that of anxiety as I imagine the mental battle I know I’m going to fight tomorrow morning, and fear at the thought of losing that battle.

Once you’ve figured out how you feel and think about your habit and have written those down, take a good look at them and wonder why you feel or think that way. “That’s so EARLY!” Who says it’s early? Early compared to what, to whom? Early in the day, sure- but if you worked graveyard and sleep 3-8, would waking up at 8.p.m be considered ‘sleeping in?’ Of course not- you only slept five hours. So clearly “early” is not a time in the day, but more likely the assumption that seven-eight hours of sleep is not going to happen. When my first thought is “That’s so EARLY,” I’m not talking about the time my alarm goes off. I’m mostly just admitting my intention of not going to bed before 10-11 at night. Now I take my objection ┬áturn it into a phrase that absolutely commits me to a course of action yielding results. “In order to wake up at six a.m I am committing to going to bed at 10pm each and every night.” If you’re following along, take notes. In addition to the “early” objection, you’ll recall I mentioned thinking “There’s no way I could do that.” This one is easy- take any statement that is just generically negative and reword it to be positive and add “Because I’m awesome.” In this example- “I can absolutely do that, because I’m awesome.”

Actions and Behaviors-

These are easier, you’ve already done the hard part. Consider where you are, and what your goal is. What are three things, no matter how small, that you could do each and every day to build towards your new habit? Habits are formed over time and with repetition, so a small change you repeat every day will be much more helpful in the long-term than a big change you make a few times a week. Your actions can be words you say to yourself out loud, emailing yourself a reminder each day, rewarding yourself for your actions yesterday, etc. For my case, I’ve decided my three things are

  • Say out loud “I am going to bed at ten, and waking up tomorrow at six” (Announcing my intent out loud makes me feel more accountable to myself).
  • Set an alarm on my phone to go off at 9:30p.m (to give myself enough time to wrap up what I’m doing).
  • Prepare my morning’s coffee in advance, so only the ‘on’ switch lies between me and the living world (Turns morning coffee into a more instant gratification).

 

Repetition and Consistency-

Once you’ve dialed in a new mindset and thoughts, decided on some actions and have targeted new behaviors, the next step is application. Repetition and Consistency are your biggest allies here my friends, this is what makes and breaks habits. If you have your own system for applying then kudos, but this is the method I’m planning on using myself: Look over your notes, if you have them. Find a few note cards and label them “Mindset and Thoughts” and “Actions and Behaviors.”

On your “Mindset and Thoughts” card, write out your corrected objection and positive statement that we went over earlier. If you’re my Evil Twin, it should read “In order to wake up at 6a.m every morning, I am committed to going to bed at 10p.m each and every night. I can absolutely do that, because I’m awesome.” On your “Actions and Behaviors” card, write out the action steps you’ve committed to taking every day in a bullet format just as I’ve done above. Use these cards to remind yourself of your goal, the reason for your goal, and the steps you’ve put into place to reach that goal. Stick them to your bathroom mirror, glue them to your forehead, whatever- but look at these cards as often as possible to cement in your mind what you are doing and why you are doing it. Do these things every day without fail (remember, you’re absolutely committed) and while it will be hard at first, it will get easier and easier over time until your old negative habit is reforged into a new positive one.

You may not think a habit is hurting you. So what if you sleep in an hour every day? ‘Who cares’ you think, ‘It’s not like anyone is going to think less of me for it.’ Well my dear reader, that’s probably true. Staying up an hour later to watch TV and waking up an hour later every morning may not change the world. But how do you feel when you wake up when you said you would? I can’t speak for you I suppose, but I certainly feel much less groggy and a much more pleased with myself than if I lounge in bed for another hour after my alarm goes off. What would you do with that hour? What could you do with an extra hour a day for the next six months? A hundred eighty hours could go a long way.

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