The Weekend Solopreneur

Issue 22.28

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Three steps to break bad habits (without too much pain)

Bad habits can be really, really difficult to break. Whether you’re addicted to coffee, or Dr Pepper (as one of my coaching clients recently confessed), or even smoking—getting out of the bad habit can be really tough.

How not to do it

If you’re like me, the worst thing you can do is go cold turkey—try to break the habit all at once. If you’re drinking too much coffee, completely stopping tomorrow is just going to result in wild withdrawal symptoms. And the sudden disappearance of all the feel-good bits is going to get you depressed.

So, here’s a better way to do it.

Step 1: Decide on a wind-down schedule

Rather than stopping all at once, decide on a wind-down schedule.

A wind-down schedule (a term of my own invention), lets you gradually let go of the bad stuff. For example, if you’re drinking 10 cups of coffee a day right now, your wind-down schedule may look something like this:

  • Week 1: 8 cups per day
  • Week 2: 6 cups per day
  • Week 3: 4 cups per day

The important thing is that your wind-down schedule should not be too fast.

If you go too fast, you’re more likely to suffer from withdrawal symptoms and fall back into your bad old habit.

And keep in mind that, in many cases, you don’t have to break the habit completely. You just have to get it to a sane level.

Step 2: Make it easy to enforce the discipline

There are two ways to enforce the discipline of your wind-down schedule:

  • remove temptation
  • keep track (visually)

And you can of course use both methods. Here’s how they work:

To remove temptation, set out your daily ration each day

I love my Nespresso machine, and my regular stash of coffee is in a drawer just below the machine. If I wanted to drink less coffee, I would take out my ration of capsules every day and put it in a glass next to the machine.

Every time you take something out of your ration, you’re going to be reminded that you only have a limited supply for the day—and that makes it easier to wait a bit before you raid your ration again.

Keep track (visually)

If setting out a daily ration is not practical, create a method to keep track of your progress.

The most important thing is that you need to be able to see your progress every day.

For example, I would like to lose some weight. To keep track of my progress, I have a monthly chart behind my office door. Each day, I weigh myself and add the point to the chart, manually drawing a line from the previous day.

OK, so I'm completely geeky with this one, but this graph helped me drop 10 lbs. Blue line is daily weight, red line is 21-day moving average. The original was just plotted by hand.

Seeing your progress every day is a great way to keep yourself motivated.

Step 3: Learn to recognize your negative triggers

A negative trigger is something that happens (or doesn’t happen) that causes you to reach for your bad habit.

For example, if you continually reach for your coffee mug while you’re working (as I do), think about what triggers you to do that. It took me a while to figure it out, but I eventually realized that I reach for my coffee whenever I need to think about something.

Once you know what triggers you, you can take steps to remove the trigger. In my case (reaching for my coffee mug when I need to think), I move my mug away from my desk (ideally washing it and putting it in the cupboard) so it’s not on my desk at all.

And if at first you don’t succeed…

Don’t be discouraged. We can’t all be perfect, and almost nothing happens in a straight line. Know that:

  • failure is part of succeeding, and
  • we learn the most when we fail.

So if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again. You will get there!

Have a great week!