Many people would love to have the answers to these two questions:
- Why is it so hard to break free from bad habits?
- How to make quitting bad habits easier?
This article will show you how to effectively break a bad habit and still enjoy yourself. Yes, It’s possible!
It’s a simple 3 steps process. And here we will cover the first one.
I have long experience in adopting and quitting bad habits. I didn’t lack inspiration while writing this article. I’m sure you will find something useful to help you with your struggle.
Two things puzzled me about breaking my bad habits:
- Why it took me so long to change them?
- Why, even though I knew the consequences of my bad habits, I failed to change them?
After a series of ‘why’ questions, the answer was: Perception. It’s the first thing that really matters when we want to break bad habits.
This article is in 3 parts:
- The nature of bad habits
- Why is it hard to change?
- How to change our perception
The Nature of bad habits
Most of us know two things, about bad habits: they are a source of pleasure and they have consequences.
1- Source of pleasure
Bad habits can give us pleasure or relieve pain in the present, which is the same thing. Pain relief, even temporary, is a pleasurable state for the one who suffers
We can think that, if we increase the bad habit, we’ll get more pleasure. It’s not what happens. The more we do, the less we get.
When I used to smoke, very few cigarettes were pleasurable. The 3 ones after the main meals gave me the greatest pleasure. The 10 others I smoked during the day didn’t give me that much satisfaction. I still smoked them anyway.
What is true for smoking is true for any other bad habit. Take procrastinating for example. If you do it once in a while, It’s pleasurable. When you do it every day, the satisfaction decreases.
We will use this disadvantage of the bad habit in our favor to break it and find a better way to enjoy ourselves.
2- They have consequences
At the back of our heads, we are aware of the consequences of our bad behaviors.
‘Smoking kill’ is the message on the packaging of the cigarettes. It’s supported by disgusting pictures.
Does it stop you from smoking? No. You’ll hide the message, or get used to it.
Do humans really care about their survival?
This is a legitimate question. We know that a part of the human brain, called the Lambic brain, handles our survival.
The human’s reaction to danger takes 3 forms: freeze, flight, or fight.
If our brain doesn’t react in response to our bad habits, there is only 1 explanation possible. Our brain doesn’t perceive them as dangerous.
Why is it hard to change?
1- Our perception of bad habits
The University of Surrey published an interesting article called ‘It won’t happen to me- Distorted view amongst smokers of when deadly damage caused by smoking will occur’.
Researchers surveyed 162 smokers and non-smokers. They found 2 things:
- Smokers perceive the hazard of smoking further in the future compared to non-smokers.
- Smokers perceive the danger of smoking too far in the future. Their self-perception is not associated with it.
In other words, they don’t feel the need to act now, as the consequences of their bad habit are far away.
This misconception leads to delay any desire to change.
Jim Rohn once said:
“Failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.”
The findings of this research apply to any bad habits- wasting time, procrastination, gambling, drinking, eating junk, and so on.
Preserving our life is not what makes us change, it’s our perception.
2- The perception of reality
The stoic philosopher Seneca said:
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
On the one hand, our perception leads us to dismiss the outcomes of our bad habits.
On the other hand, it associates any change with pain. We feel pain before it actually happens.
When we base our decision to change on the short-term pain, we condemn ourselves for long-term pain.
Consider someone who wants to lose weight. He has good reasons to do it: feeling energized, fitting in clothes, or gaining confidence.
However, the thought he would need to go on diet, feel hungry, and give up on the junk food, made him delayed the change.
Unfortunately, to gain long-term pleasure, we need to go through a short period of pain.
But with the right reward, we can make any pain worth it. We’ll cover the rewards in the second article.
Once we know why it’s hard to break a habit, it’s easier to work on how to do it and while we enjoy ourselves.
How to change our perception
The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung wrote:
“We cannot change anything unless we accept it.”
The first step is to acknowledge the need to change our bad habits. Without this step, change is impossible.
Once we have this thought planted in our head, we need to turn it into action.
This is where most people get stuck.
By changing our perception, we can tip the balance in favor of taking action.
1- The Contrast Principle
In his book “Influence- The Psychology of Persuasion”, Robert Cialdini showed the power of the contrast principle. It can be used as a weapon to manipulate and gain our compliance.
We can use the same principle to change our perception without resistance.
The contrast principle is based on the comparison. Our perception of two things will differ if they are presented to us separately or in succession.
For example, if we lift a light object (A), then a heavier object (B), we will perceive B as much heavier than if we didn’t compare to A.
What the contrast principle has to do with changing bad habits?
The contrast principle makes the change more appealing.
Let’s consider someone who wants to lose weight.
An application of the contrast principle is to hang two dresses of different sizes, one next to the other. The first with his actual size; the second with the size he wants to fit in. This can provoke the necessity, the urge, and the desire to change.
The contrast principle works as well with emotions. Jot down how you feel doing the bad habit and how you want to feel in the future.
Bad Habits Feelings VS Good Habits Feelings
The purpose of using the contrast principle is to make the change as much attractive as possible.
2- The opportunity cost
Opportunity Costs are what you have to give up to get something.
It’s a financial analysis concept that helps with decision making. They don’t show up on any report, but they can cost a lot of money.
Opportunity costs can involve money or time. We can borrow this concept from economists and investors to apply for bad habits.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you spend 2 hours in daily distractions. It’s 728 hours a year, which is about 1 month. Imagine working for 1 month, day and night, without sleeping, on learning a new skill. Something that can make you more valuable in the market place. Don’t you agree it can make a big difference in your future incomes?
If you spend 5$ a day on smoking, the opportunity cost is the yearly amount that you could spend on something else. 1825$ it’s a good sum to start investing or buy courses that help you grow.
The goal here is to reveal all the missing opportunities.
Writing down all the things we could be doing instead of bad habits. It can help tip the balance in favor of changing and taking action.
Changing a bad habit on an impulse doesn’t work. We need to shake the old perception and replace with a new one. When we have this foundation in place, it becomes easier to build on the top. This is how we effectively break bad habits and enjoy ourselves. First, we change our perception. And second, we seek the Big Rewards. But this will be for the next article 🙂