Four Steps to Break a Bad Habit for Good

Four Steps to Break a Bad Habit for Good

By Susie Moore: I used to have a roommate named Heather who’d spark up Marlboro Light after Marlboro Light, but desperately wanted to quit. Back...

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By Susie Moore:

I used to have a roommate named Heather who’d spark up Marlboro Light after Marlboro Light, but desperately wanted to quit. Back then, I told her one tip I’d learned from a smoker who had quit successfully. He said, “Replace an unwanted habit with a good habit.”

“But what habit?” she asked. In a miracle moment, I just so happened to be holding a green tea in my hands that second.

“Green tea,” I almost screamed. “Green tea!” I raised my cup to highlight the timing of the universe.

“I like green tea,” Heather said, looking curious. Could it work for her? She stocked the kitchen cupboards full of jasmine green tea, and cigarettes were banished from our house from that day forward.

Replacing a bad habit with a good one is absolutely possible—if you’re willing. Here’s how to do it successfully:

1. Make sure the decision is yours.

Change isn’t the easiest thing on earth; we find safety in familiarity, and our old ways can give us comfort—that glass of red at the end of a long day, the cake as the reward for a project finished, the snug-feeling smart phone with the Insta app (also known as social crutch) you hold in your hand.

2. Be around the right people.

I used to go to AA with my dad and I remember something often repeated there: “If you don’t want to slip, don’t go where it’s slippery.” This meant: Stay out of the pub! Find some sober friends! Enjoy “dry” places and activities, like a walk in the woods or a drive along the seaside.

Who can you spend a little more time with who doesn’t share the habit you’re hoping to reduce? For example, I find myself drinking far less white wine with my entrepreneur friends than I do with my old corporate buddies. Who is a good influence in your life? Give them a call.

3. Distract yourself.

Comfort food is alluring no matter how full we are. My comfort food is pancakes, my childhood favourite. I could even eat them after a five-course dinner. A great technique when you aren’t hungry but want to give in to a craving is to distract your mind, even momentarily.

Instead of opening your fridge, leave the kitchen and start sorting something in a drawer in your bedroom, for example. When you go back to the kitchen, you might have forgotten about the food altogether. This happened to me recently when I was making a batch of pancakes and my best friend called. We spoke excitedly for 45 minutes—and the batch went down the sink.

A different trick might work for you: A client of mine quit her nail-biting habit by massaging the small of her back every time she wanted to chew a nail. After three weeks, she’d stopped—but she’s kept up the massages.

Rewarding ourselves matters, especially when we feel we’re depriving ourselves in another way or that we’ve had to endure something difficult.

The reward is best if it’s completely unrelated to the unhealthy habit you’ve eradicated. If you’ve quit sugar, for example, you can treat yourself to a nice haircut or even a weekend away. A friend quit coffee and booze for a month and saved $1,000—that’s plenty for some time pool- or mountain-side time this winter!

As for Heather, she decided to put her cigarette money in a jar and save for a car (Hey—I’d choose to put my hard-earned money into a set of wheels versus lighting it up in smoke any day.) Did she succeed? I don’t know; unfortunately, we didn’t keep in touch.

Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column! ority52 \