How to say goodbye to your bad habits

How to say goodbye to your bad habits

Which habits do you seek to improve?

Which habits do you seek to improve?

Are you ready for change?

Change is tough, few are fortunate to be able to embrace change at every opportunity over a long sustained amount of time. The reason for this is due to the establishment of habits. Certain patterns start to repeat into our thoughts and daily actions. The challenge is to understand which of these patterns have become good or bad habits.

The best way to change a habit is to understand its structure
— Charles Duhigg

Your attitude towards life and work can improve and be transformed through the creation of good habits and positive thoughts, first we need to understand how to identify and break down the bad habits. The bad habits effort your choices in life and become the hurdles to your success in life and work, with goals you set for yourself. It is your habits that can create a strong and vibrant life through mental attitude and your physical well-being.

Our minds don’t always integrate in the best way possible. Even when you know the right answer, you can’t make yourself change the habitual behaviour.
— Wendy Wood – Professor of Psychology, University of Southern California

The Habit Loop

Charles Duhigg is the author of The Power of Habit. In his writings and study, Charles has identified 3 steps to form a habit. First is the Cue or Trigger (the need to perform a task i.e. take out the trash), then Routine of performing the action (actually doing it) and thirdly the reward (the trash has been placed outside so a satisfaction that step 1+2 are completed with success).

The work of Wendy Wood and Charles Duhigg have identified that when performing repeat tasks, your brain starts to shut down and your brain simply runs on a form of auto pilot. This frees the mind for other thoughts or actions. So, a child taking out the trash for the first few times will concentrate on each sub task element as opposed to a parent you might be on the phone talking and thinking of something else whilst removing the trash.

Do you recognise these behaviours in yourself or others?

Via TEDx : In this ingenious talk, Pulitzer Prize winning writer Charles Duhigg seamlessly combines informational facts from research, anecdotes from real events, and personal experience with insightful observations to explain why human behaviors are compelled by habit.

10+1 Bad Habits People Want To Change

The most common bad habits found in people at home and at work will vary from culture to culture plus age group selection. Here I summarize the most common habits people perceive as bad and seek to change. 

In the end it is a choice

In the end it is a choice

  1. Procrastination

  2. The pursuit of short term rewards only (shopping, social media)

  3. Allowing occasional negative experiences poison long periods of time and influence other areas

  4. Giving up too early

  5. Living your life in past memories and not in the present or planning for the future

  6. Staying in a rut too long and not seeking help

  7. Prioritizing work over relationships

  8. Blaming others for your situation

  9. Not taking sufficient rest

  10. Not learning

  11. Biting nails or poor diet

The Time Taken to Form Great Habits

You can pick various studies and read their conclusions that a good habit can be formed in 21 days, 66 days, 90 days, 264 days or 900 days. The challenge with each of these studies is some of the context and limited scope of their experimental design. They then lead to a statistical “Average” which generates an easy sale headline and then marketing gets of the idea. BOOM the next thing you know, you have a $70 program to help stop your habit of smoking, what you eat, be positive [insert any idea you wish here] with a scientific backed strategy within x days. 

What we know from lab studies is that it’s never too late to break a habit
— Charles Duhigg Author of The Power of Habit

The studies most cited in this arena are perfectly valid and well researched and presented. They include Dr Maxwell Maltz book from 1960 called “Psycho-cybernetics” and Lally, van Jaarsveld, Potts, & Wardle, 2010 from UCL who discovered the AVERAGE 66 days of habit formation based on activity or diet behaviour.

he truth behind the headline is the RANGE of time the participants took to develop the changed habit. One person changed within 18 days and their FORECAST went to 254 days for a person who had not changed their habit after the length of the study (the experiment lasted 84 days). So, in truth there is still scope of error in their forecast.

Strength of Your Habit

One thing is to form a new habit and another is to make it stick! For this reason we see the huge numbers of people at the start of the year go on a diet, run, change a working process or procedure and then after a period of time stop. The bigger the challenge and change to your behaviour then tougher it is mostly likely to be to make a change of habit stick and form.

How do you feel without coffee for a day?

How do you feel without coffee for a day?

For example to cut out caffeine from your diet some will find it OK and an easy change, others will suffer headaches and mood swings.

The clear goal should remain and instead seek to find the best method for YOU. This may be a reduction of consumption over a longer amount of time and replacement with another drink that is seen as a positive reward.


Understand the root cause of your bad habits

We have identified already the 3 steps to habit formation. From understanding these steps it becomes easier to identify the sources of our bad habits. On a personal note, I have a sweet tooth, meaning that I will often take a piece of cake or candy as a choice, which gives me a short term reward of a nice sweet sensation, but leave me in the medium/longer term extra calories I need to shed.

MotoGP rider #46

MotoGP rider #46

Also whilst I am working I can become distracted by the latest lap time results from the riders in MotoGP, this satisfies my short term need to be informed and feel happy for their progress, yet it means I will need to work longer and regain my concentration on other work activities later.

When I catch these habit desires, I can ignore them (mostly) by simply reconnecting to a larger reason of “Why”. Why am I about to x, y, z? What will this do to bring me to my wider goals today and the rest of my life? This means I still will occasionally take the piece of candy or check the lap times, however these are only done after serious consideration to the consequences. I find this radically has helped formed new and improved habits and behavior in me.

You may need to measure your short term deviations by using a simple metric score on an app or post it note, just to ensure that your behaviors are been managed out and not remaining dormant or worse still, creeping back in. This part of your accountability to yourself is vital for medium/long term success.

Logging: I suggest you log the worst habits you think of for yourself and/or business. My recording the areas that you are least pleased about becomes easier to measure their frequency and ask deeper questions. Why is this a bad habit? Why do I do this? When did I start this habit? What else is happening or not happening to cause this action?

Aligning The Rewards

Focus on who you want to be

Focus on who you want to be

One of the key reasons for failure to adopt new positive habits is that the person does not gain an aligned reward sensation from the new habit that replaces the older habit.

So, if you are spending too much time procrastinating on social media then maybe making a phone call to one person will satisfy your emotional state of needing to feel connected and cared for.

This is why the slow reduction of dependence offered through drug programs, smoking programs address the physical biological effects first and then the deeper emotional issues after to help form new aligned rewards that become just an emotional connection and not both a biological dependency and emotional.

Create systems, process and alignment

Create systems, process and alignment

For the above reason, many diets are not followed through. You may be encouraged to pay a large amount of money on a specific detox program or special short term weight loss package that works for a very short amount of time. This then falls flat by not addressing and replacing the prior bad habit rewards with new positive ones.

Be Clear About Your Goals

There are enough happiness studies to show that lottery winners are not as happy as you would consider them to be after their first 12 months. Part of the reasons are these people have replaced one set of prior life challenges with a new set of life challenges that are linked through similar themes. If you sit today and play the lottery, then I can only advise you create a very clear and specific plan of what and WHY you make the choices you choose.

World travel destinations

World travel destinations

The same applies to your bad habits. Set clear goals for your life with timelines. Have a mix of timelines that include, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual. Be very specific with your goal creation and seek the alignment of your rewards you expect from them. It is important that the choices you make to take action on these goals also have positive rewards and benefits, otherwise your desire for shorter term rewards may erode your desire.

Case Study : Too much tech time bad Habit Solved

Guilty of too much tech time?

Guilty of too much tech time?

One of the biggest challenges I hear when talking to other parents is the amount of “screen time” their children spend in front of a games console, smartphone and computers.

My wife and I faced the same concerns and then created some new solutions that have been adopted by several of our friends.

1) Technology Free Thursday: The concept here is simple. The WHOLE FAMILY has a day with no technology. This forces us to play board games, go out together on walks or bike rides, read or do separate creative activities or hobbies.

2) 1 hour before bed time no screen time. (That alone has the potential to reduce screen time by 7 hours each week)

3) No tech at the table whilst we are eating.

4) Tech time managed per age grouping. (Teenager 2 hours max, pre-teen 1 hour max).

5) Special concessions. When a specific request for more time comes about we discuss the consequences and allow the kids to make their choices. This can be whether a reduction of time later in the week or some specific activity or house hold chore they will conduct.

At first the above steps were met almost with a mutiny and revolution. It was funny to find us as parents occasionally breaking a rule only to be picked up by one of the kids. Now, we are happy to have replaced these bad habits with more positive ones, I am not sure or convinced yet that my eldest teenage daughter agrees with them, yet in time she may.


Be open

Be open

We love praise and the satisfaction of doing well – just look at Facebook status and Instagram images to see people been proud of their good deed performed.

This has a strong benefit of social gratitude and can be used within your own accountability to adopt a new positive habit. See my prior article on accountability here.

A time for reflection

Take time to go somewhere new and different. Select a park, café or other location or even select an awful film at the cinema and do not watch the film but use the 90 minutes to reflect and question. Use the time to look back at earlier phases and times in your life and seek some current areas of your life where you experience good habits. It is startling how effective this exercise can be to regenerate a connection within a person to clarify their goals.

  • I often see a business leader reconnect to the spirit of their startup business vision and energy or a mother who wants to start swimming again when she recalls the joy and success of their early years at college.

Life Is Not Perfect

Despite all the positive energy you generate and happiness you feel on the positive moments, there is a world of reality that will create challenges and possibly make you slip up from time to time. These experiences should be taken as simply a hick up and tempory state. These slippages do not mean you have failed.

Go the distance

Go the distance

A personal example is as follows: I had not run a half marathon distance for almost 20 years. I started training and everything was going fine until I pulled my calf muscle.

This healed but I missed the date of my half marathon race. Instead I continued, never gave up and simply ran the distance at the earliest opportunity I could for my health. I ran it not in a race but on in the surrounding area of my home, no crowds, no cheers just my own sense of satisfaction knowing that the earlier injury was simply a delay and not a reason to stop.

 The Power of Vision Boards and Affirmations

A business will normally have a vision and mission proudly posted on their website, literature and part of their sales strategy. These generate the values and purpose for their existence. I find in life that most people do not have their personal vision and mission statements. The use of these tools has the same impact and value as they have for a business.

Consider the use of vision boards to help discover the “Why” to help form positive habits. See my article here:

Vision boards

Vision boards

Positive self-talk is an important motivator for confidence and a reminder of why we perform the actions we take. The repeated use of affirmations has some questionable science yet has been used across many cultures for thousands of years. If you find their use of benefit then see my article here on how to apply them.

Self talk and affirmation

Self talk and affirmation

10+1 Top Habits of Successful People

You can easily find many lists of what different people consider to be leading great habits, so here is a summary of the most common referred best practice in positive habits.

  1. Seek an opportunity in every situation

  2. Treat failures as positive learning experiences

  3. Do not let fear over ride action

  4. Take responsibility and accountability for your actions

  5. Improve what you are good at and understand what you are not

  6. Action oriented with a clear focus and purpose

  7. Take calculated risks in all areas of life including relationship, financial, career, physical

  8. Understand the 3 steps of habit and use them to form positive ones

  9. Know when to accept rest and embrace it

  10. Create time for family, friends, relationships, community, hobbies, study and mindset

  11. Have a "get it done" attitude, do not give up easy and make progress come what may

You now have the basic tools to break your bad habits, some examples of how to create new ones and a firm framework that covers business and personal life for positive habit formation. The component parts of habits are their triggers, routine and reward.

The time taken to be rid of bad habits will depend on your clarity; reasons and motivation to create new positive habits in their place that provide the same or similar reward emotions.

You may be one of the lucky few people and implement changes very swiftly or you may be one of the people that will take considerably longer than 21 or 254 days. The length of time will vary from person to person and also vary on the type of habit you want to improve.

The key message in this article is to not give up and accept yourself for you and what you are, aim for your future goals and retain a balance of realism, accountability and progress.

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James Doyle - JAMSO

James Doyle - JAMSO

JAMSO helps people and business transform their performance. We provide help in goal setting, goal management, metrics, KPI’s, business intelligence and analytics. We connect the human motivational factors to the actions of performance.

  • Written by James Doyle, founder of JAMSO. We have over 200 free articles, tools and resources for your success.