Benjamin Franklin said, “it is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.”
Ironic, coming from the man who had a licentious history with women. Nonetheless, he is spot on with his advice.
Many of us have heard it takes a certain number of days to break a habit. “Psycho-Cybernatics,” a 1960s-pop psychology book, is famous for listing 21 days as the amount of time needed to break a habit.
In reality, it is entirely dependent upon the person. Some can stop within a week or two. Others spend their whole lives battling bad habits.
Take brushing your teeth for example. Dentists will tell you to brush and floss twice a day. Even under threat of halitosis, cavities or worse, we still find it hard to follow their advice.
How can you form good habits and prevent bad ones? Let me offer a few pieces of advice that may help.
First, be honest. The easiest person to lie to is yourself. Realize that you are in control of your own actions and that breaking a habit is entirely mental.
Once you have accepted you’re the only one to blame for your habits, then you can begin to break the bad and form the good.
Let’s go back to brushing your teeth. Most humans brush at least once a day. That means they are one third of the way to optimal dental health.
Break down habits into easy to handle steps. Don’t try to brush and floss twice a day from the start.
Instead, start brushing twice a day. This will be hard enough without adding in flossing.
Find ways to make your habit enjoyable. Brush your teeth while listening to a favorite song. Floss while you read or watch a show.
Eventually the chore stops being a chore and becomes a part of everyday life.
Once you’ve taken a few of the first steps when forming or breaking a habit, it is important to reward yourself.
Limiting the reward is vital to keeping them important and promoting good behavior. If you reward yourself too often, it ceases to be a treat and becomes part of the habit.
If you create a list of milestones and only reward yourself once you’ve met them, then you can keep yourself under control and utilize positive reinforcement effectively.
The biggest pitfall when breaking bad habits is complacency.
It is easy to think you’ve beaten the monster after a few weeks. The first few days are the hardest and after it will seem easy.
It’s when conflict and stressors appear that most bad habits re-form. Bad habits are usually ones that make you feel good. They are what you turn to when you need reassurance and comfort.
That’s why you are the most vulnerable when strife happens.
Mindfulness will help you combat falling off the wagon. If you are ready for the first big bumps, you will have the tools to combat stressors.
The final tip is to build a support base. Depending on the habit, see if your close friends, family or significant other would help you achieve your goals.
Accountability is a great motivator. It’s easy to let down yourself but you’d do anything to prevent others from seeing your failure.
Don’t reach out for support until you have already reached your milestones and taken the first few steps.
This way you will have already started on your journey and failure will be much more impactful.
Habits, bad or good, will always be part of life — from the ones we don’t notice, like which shoe we put on first, to habits that pervade our entire life, like smoking.
Nothing is too big to overcome or too small to start with a little help. If you are mindful no habit will stand a chance.
Griffen Winget can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org