Saying good bye to your bad habits

It always helps to have a good new habit to put in its place.

Barbara Barb Bowes Transitions
Barbara Bowes

Have you ever thought about your habits and how they seem to rule your life? You know, your morning routine of coffee and toast, how you brush your teeth, where you leave your shoes, what time you leave to meet a friend and/or what time you go to bed. While most of us think our habits follow our specific intentions, the truth is that we first create a habit and then the habit controls us. Habits create shortcuts for us; we don’t have to think about things; we just do them.

Research also shows that it is easier to create a new habit than to break or stop an old habit. That’s because our brain creates neural patterns that become memory, which then allow us to simply follow a routine without thinking. In my mind, this is a good explanation as to why people fail at living up to their New Year’s resolutions. Most of the time, their goal is to change a bad habit, such as smoking.

There’s no single effective way to break a bad habit. Some people change their habit by becoming more aware of their unhealthy behaviour and then developing a strategy to counteract it. For instance, a smoker who is quitting their habit will avoid temptation by refusing to join their friends at their normal outside smoking place. Other people substitute one habit for another, such as developing an exercise routine and/or taking up a new hobby.

Dr. Ron Jenson, co-founder of Future Achievement International, suggests that ridding yourself of bad habits and forming new ones is a matter of personal discipline. In his view, creating a new habit to replace a bad or old habit is the best approach.

From a disciplinary point of view, Jenson suggests it is important to confirm just why you want change to occur. Do this by asking yourself a series of questions. For instance, “Why do you want to develop a new habit?” “How will things be better if you do develop the new habit?” And, “What do you stand to lose and/or gain by building your new habit?”

The answer to these questions will create the intellectual will to build your new habit. But at the same time, Jenson suggests, an individual will need a feedback system of some sort in order to reinforce the new habit. This could be a simple chart where you can mark and track your success. It will give you an opportunity to examine times when you didn’t meet your goal and fell back into your old habit. Once you have this information, you can solidify what you need to do to continue moving ahead.

Changing habits requires that you apply multiple ways to make your new habit an automatic behavior. Other strategies include reflecting on your day, acting as though you are in a movie watching yourself as you went about your business and observing strengths and areas of challenge. Some need to have an accountability “buddy” to whom they report their daily accomplishments and from whom they can seek encouragement. Others find positive affirmations and post them on the fridge, the bathroom mirror or on the side of their computer.

The important thing is to think big but create small progressive steps that will enable you to reach your goal. This enables you to go through each day and feel a sense of accomplishment and a sense of achievement.

Most psychologists suggest it takes 21 days of consistent practice to create a new habit. So, in what area of life would you like to create a new habit? What actions can you take after reading this article to get started on your new habit? What challenges do you expect and how will you overcome them?

If you want to make personal life changes that will take you into the new seasons, find answers to the questions above and get started with your new goal.

Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group and of Career Partners International, Manitoba. She is also an author, radio host and professional speaker. She can be reached at

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