4 Ways to Break Your Bad Habits

For a long time, I wanted to break the habit of constantly scrolling through social media on my phone whenever there was a lull in my day. I hated that I always felt compelled to check Facebook or Instagram or email. Even if it was only for a few seconds, I knew I was wasting a lot of precious time in the long haul.

Instead, I wanted, to spend my free time reading. I wasn’t sure how much time I was wasting on my phone, but I was certain it was probably enough to get me through a good book or two in a month. However, my realization that I wanted to spend less time glued to my phone didn’t translate into change until I took some concrete steps to change my habits. Lots of bad habits can hold us back, whether it’s staying up too late watching TV, eating too much junk food, or procrastinating (my kryptonite), but these strategies can help you break those habits and put better ones in their place.

1. Be clear about your goals

One of the reasons I found it so hard to untether myself from my phone was that spending “less” time staring at the screen was an incredibly vague way to define my habit change. It wasn’t until I made the decision that I wanted to dock my phone as soon as I got home (and only use it in that docked location) that I was able to kick the habit. Once that was done, I took on the second half of my goal – instead of reading “more,” I would read whenever the urge to check my phone arose. Your habit change needs to be precise and actionable if you want it to stick. Don’t resolve to do something “less” or “more.” If you want to work out “more,” decide what activities, how long, and how many times per week. Clarity is the key to change.

2. Focus on the reward

When we are changing our habits, there are usually rewards built right into them. Saving cash by not eating out for lunch every day means more money to use for vacation (or whatever you happen to be saving toward). Running four times a week means better health, and possibly accomplishing a bigger goal, like running a half-marathon. It’s easy to focus on what we’re missing. When I gave up all but a couple hours of TV per week, it was hard not to feel deprived, but when I focused on what I was gaining (more time to read, more time for friends, and better sleep), it made it seem like I was treating myself instead.

3. Tell a friend

When it comes to changing a habit, accountability can play a huge role in your success. When I decided I wanted to write fiction every day for a month, I told my friend and made sure she would check in on me. I even sent her what I was writing at the end of each week to ensure I was keeping my promise. Whether you’re changing a bad habit or starting a new one, having someone to keep you honest is always helpful.

4. Get rid of temptations

Whenever I’m trying to kick a bad habit, I feel like I’m drawn to it more than ever. If I decide to get off sugar for a month, I’m suddenly craving doughnuts like never before. If I’m supposed to be working distraction-free, the pull of internet clickbait stories is immediately very strong. The easiest trick I’ve found is to make sure there are no temptations to trip me up. If I’m kicking sugar, I make sure there’s no candy bars hiding in the cabinet, or if I’m cutting out distractions I’ll use an app like Freedom – which locks me out of sites I don’t want to look at during work periods.  

Breaking your bad habits can feel like a daunting task, but building better ones will allow you to live a fuller, and many times healthier, life. Take the first step and start polishing the parts of your lifestyle that could use a little shine.