How to Obliterate Bad Habits and Addictions

“The unfortunate thing about this world is that good habits are so much easier to give up than bad ones.” ~Somerset Maugham

Bad habits and addictions run the gamut from overeating and being lazy to chain smoking and drinking. And they’re often not just limited to ‘annoyances’; more often than not, addictions can prove extremely debilitating mentally, physically, financially, socially and in other ways. Good news, though—there’s help!

Inasmuch, there’s no silver bullet for conquering a bad habit or, worse, an oppressive addiction. And it’s true that for many, bad habits and addictions usually do die hard. But with a combination of the right strategy and the right kind of motivation, you’ll annihilate that bad habit or nasty addiction sooner than you ever thought possible. The best part? Experts generally agree that most addictions can be completely overcome in as few as 21 days.

It’s All In Your Head

No, really. You see, every one of your voluntary actions (lifting a leg, raise an arm, putting things in your mouth, etc.) manifest themselves through repeated thoughts and training. And of course there are both good, bad, voluntary, and involuntary actions. The problem with addiction, though, is that negative thoughts and emotions surrounding a particular habit tend to masquerade as either (or both) positive or merely necessary ones.

“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” ~Lao Tzu

In the latter case, your subconscious knows (and may even alert the conscious mind to the fact) that these are bad behaviors, but the pleasure-seeking regions—namely, the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area—“spins” the notion that the pros (e.g. that sense of instant gratification after consuming a beer or cigarette) outweigh the cons, at least in the short term. But eventually, your brain becomes hard-wired, and giving up bad habits becomes almost impossible. And the problem is that this hedonistic, ‘overriding’ function of the brain won’t surrender until you take conscious, progressive steps against it.

Identify Your Triggers

‘Trigger’, it’s just what it sounds like: Some thought, action, or external condition that fuels the urge to carry out a bad habit. Triggers (negative motivators) can originate from practically anywhere and be almost anything, including boredom, depression/anxiety, stress, nervousness, etc. Essentially, it boils down to the tendency of people needing (wanting) perpetual instant gratification.

Stop Feeding Bad Habits

Bad habits and addictions feed off negative stimuli. Look at the situation like this: There are two motivators inside each person, followed by a set of habits. One motivator is positive, the other—negative. Which habit one will triumph over the other? The one you fuel.

Starve bad habits of their motivators and feed (new) positive habits with positive motivators and reinforcements.

Replace Negative Triggers (Motivators)

“A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit.” ~Desiderius Erasmus

One of the first things to remember about quitting a bad habit or addiction is that only deciding to “quit”, with no strategy and substance behind that decision, you’re only setting yourself up for likely failure. Most folks can resist temptation for only so long; very few people can just quit a habit without altering other factors, too.

So, pin down your triggers. Replace them, one-by-one if necessary. For instance, if you’re trying to kick smoking (an addiction that plagues untold millions), observe what you’re typically thinking and/or doing that usually sparks the craving. Make a record of it. And instead of falling into the same trap again and again, do something else that’s equally as enjoyable yet less ‘provoking’. Write. Relax and breath deeply. Soak up a good book. Anything but the old.

Be Consistent, Use Moderation

It’s as simple as “later, rinse, repeat”. Immediately pick up the “alternative” activity anytime one of those old, negative triggers shows up. Use moderation, though, especially in the early stages of weaning yourself off of something. For instance, say that giving up sugar and/or caffeine is your goal: While giving up these things is the goal, don’t beat yourself up if you have a Coke at a ballgame or slice of cake at a birthday gathering. Just cut those things out of your everyday routine.

Don’t Attempt to Conquer A Habit Overnight, and Tackle Only One (or two) Habit At a Time

Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time. ~Twain

The Soviet Union didn’t fall in one night; the Roman Empire wasn’t built in a day. Trying to tackle more than one or two bad habits/addictions at a time will virtually guarantee you failure. Take baby steps: For example, use a block of around three weeks to quit smoking (in of itself a monumental challenge for many people). Afterwards, put the statistically-resultant-of-quitting-smoking binge eating to task—considering that people who try to quit smoking almost always increase their food intake, gaining weight. A month or so later, the conquered habit(s) gone and recorded in your daily log, start eliminating a new bad habit. See a pattern yet?

Set A Realistic Timeline For Quitting, With Milestones Along the Way

Start by planning your goal(s) in a tangible way. Write them down, mark them on the calendar, or blog about ’em. Set solid achievement dates, with smaller (but no less important) milestones along the way. If it’s drinking—usually one of the most serious and consequential addictions—you dream of quitting, record that mission somewhere that you frequent every day. Maybe you’re starting out at 10 beers a day. Plan to drink only seven 10 days later; try for only 5 a few days later. Mark off your successes (or failures): Keep going!

Hold Yourself Accountable

Not only hold yourself accountable for slip-ups, but establish a support group (a.k.a. accountability circle) among family and/or friends. This notion stipulates that the fear of you failing yourself is bad, but the fear of disappointing the people you pledged to not disappoint is worse. This handy trick won’t only instill a greater fear of failure in your mind, it’ll also greatly boost your motivation to succeed.

Your Brain Can Be Your Greatest Ally or Your Worst Enemy

The brain is a remarkably complex, living machine. It, in one form or another, directs every single one of the hundreds—even thousands—of bodily processes. Many noted psychologists even theorize that the brain, like some omnipotent being, can even enslave the body into accepting inherently good things as bad things, and vice-versa. It can fool a person through repetition into accepting that an addiction, while admittedly  is “bad for him or her”, is somehow “necessary” to preempt some form of suffering, however minimal or major.

Bottom line: Conquer your brain into submission (versus it conquering you). Reassure it (almost as if ‘it’ were like the aforementioned ‘independent entity’) that even though it sustains life and your ability to perform even the smallest actions, that it won’t adversely control you and your body.