How I broke 3 of my worst habits (and how you can too)
August 01, 2022
Bad habits are subjective. We all have different definitions of what a bad habit looks like, and that definition is influenced by our values, our goals and our intentions.
The reason why I’m sharing this is because I know I’m not the only one who struggles to break a bad habit.
Even if these habits sound pretty harmless to you, you can still use the same principles to break the habits that are compromising your wellbeing and impacting your quality of life.
Let's explore the strategies I used to kick three of my worst habits to the kerb.
#1 Using my phone in bed
Sounds pretty harmless right?
Like I said, you might not consider this a bad habit because it might not affect you in the same way that it affects me.
The reason why it was one of my worst habits is because the nightly scroll affected my sleep.
There was a pretty strong correlation between my phone usage and sleep quality. I would toss and turn and struggle to get to sleep all because I was tempted by this little device sitting inches away from me on my bedside table.
The other reason why this habit had to go is because instead of prioritising my meditation in the morning (which is incredibly important to me), I’d reach for my phone and start the day scrolling on Instagram.
Instead of starting the day slowly and mindfully—how I intended, I was launching my brain into overdrive.
So how did I break this habit? How did I stop the morning and nightly scroll?
I implemented a new nightly routine which involves leaving my phone in the kitchen. This creates distance and eliminates temptation.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Let’s face it—exercising self-control and relying on willpower aren’t reliable strategies.
If that’s been your strategy and you haven’t had much luck with it, try this instead.
Try optimising or redesigning your home and your workspace to make your bad habits harder. Remove the items and objects that trigger your bad habits.
Implement barriers. Create distance.
If the objects that trigger your bad habits are accessible—if they are right in front of you—it’s easy to engage in those habits. It’s effortless right?
If the sources of temptation are strategically positioned away from you, like I’ve done with my phone, you’re less likely to stick to those habits because it's now an effort.
For me, walking to the other end of the house to retrieve my phone at night is an effort so that distance has helped put an end to my nightly scroll.
What I’ve also done is replace the source of temptation with a book so that when I do turn to my bedside table in search of my phone—in search of something to entertain me before bed—what I’ll see is a book.
What we’ve got to recognise is that our bad habits address certain needs, most of which are related to stress and boredom. So, what I’m doing by swapping out the phone for a book is still addressing that boredom. I’m addressing that need for entertainment when I’m not quite ready to sleep.
So for each bad habit, I want you to ask yourself a few questions:
What triggers this bad habit?
How can I optimise and redesign my space to eliminate or reposition the objects that trigger my bad habit?
What need is this bad habit addressing and how can I address that need in a healthy way?
#2 Sitting at a desk all day
I used to sit in front of a desk all day instead of taking timely breaks to stretch.
My body naturally suffered the consequences. Lower back pain and headaches were a common occurrence.
At one point, I tried implementing a recurring reminder to get up and stretch but unfortunately it wasn’t effective in breaking the cycle.
So, how did I break this habit of sitting all day?
I bought myself a standing desk. It’s actually an adjustable desk so I do have the option of lowering it and sitting down but I’ve actually never done that.
Now why haven’t I done that?
Because it’s an effort.
As humans, we are motivated to do what is easy and what I’ve realised is that it’s easier to keep the desk in a standing position than it is to manually lower it down and reconfigure the height of my screen depending on the height of my chair. It’s just a bit of a process that I find very unappealing.
I’ve made my bad habit of sitting all day HARDER. I’ve made it an inconvenience. I’ve increased the number of steps I would need to take to engage in that habit of sitting all day.
As a result, I’ve made standing the easier option.
With all this in mind, ask yourself:
How can I make my bad habit an inconvenience?
How can I make it unappealing?
Just like with the standing desk, there are plenty of one-off actions that you can take to eliminate your bad habits for good. Yes, they may require a little effort to implement but it will worth it when you no longer have to suffer the consequences of those unhelpful habits.
Think about what those one-off actions could be for your bad habits. It could be as simple as deleting a game or app that’s eating up your time or choosing the direct debit option for your bills to avoid overdue payments or cancelling a credit card or your Afterpay account to avoid overspending.
#3 Watching Netflix during the day instead of working
Back when I quit my job and was working on building Saint Belford, I developed a pretty bad habit of watching Netflix during the day.
I’m sure you can imagine what that would have done to my productivity levels, right? Not ideal when you’re starting a new business and chewing through your savings.
So how did this habit come about and how did I break it?
Well, our brains associate certain objects and spaces with specific habits which means using the same space for multiple habits can be a little problematic.
I was working from the couch—the same space where I would typically relax in the evening. Since my Netflix habit was so strongly tied to the couch, my brain was just acting on autopilot mode during the day (or at least trying to).
It sounds ridiculous right? I mean, where’s my self-control?
The thing is, it’s not about self-control. It’s about the power of habit and how so many of our habits happen on autopilot.
So what did I do to break this cycle?
I made Netflix less accessible. I logged out of it. What this did was create enough of a barrier between Netflix and I. It became an inconvenience to watch during the day because I’d have to log back in.
When you add another step to the process and subsequently make your habit a little bit harder, it stops you in your tracks. That extra step pulls you out of autopilot mode and gives you the opportunity to rethink the decision you’re about to make.
What I also did to break this habit was stop working from couch.
Breaking bad habits is less about exercising self-control and more about removing the sources of temptation or removing yourself from the environment that is triggering your bad habits.
You will have far more success when you spend your energy on optimising your environment and removing the things that trigger your bad habits than you will trying to exercise self-control.
Be patient with yourself as you work towards breaking the habits that don’t serve you and replacing them with ones that support your goals and reflect the person that you want to be.
Remember that shooting for a perfect record is unrealistic, so be kind to yourself. Show yourself compassion on the days you slip back into old habits and treat those days as learning curves.