Breaking the Cycle: How to Escape Bad Habits for Good

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Are you constantly falling back into your old habits? Here is how to avoid this cycle

We’ve all been there – the promising start of adopting a new, healthy habit, and at first it’s going so well. Things are feeling good, you’re getting into the groove but then something happens …

And before you know it, you’re right back where you’ve started. 

It’s like you took one step forward and two steps back and you’re feeling discouraged and questioning if you aren’t cut out for this new lifestyle you’re envisioning.  

But don’t worry, my friend this happens to the best of us. Between the countless diets, personal development goals, and other lifestyle changes, I have been here too many times to count. So I know how you are feeling.

Breaking free from bad habits is an ongoing journey that demands discipline, mindfulness, and effective strategies because it is far from easy.

After all, you’re most likely trying to change a habit that you’ve been doing for quite some time. And that habit wasn’t developed overnight. 

But don’t worry, all hope isn’t lost. There are ways to avoid falling back into your old habits and stop this vicious cycle once and for all. I have found ways to increase my success rate and I’m here to let you in on some of these strategies.

I believe that self-reflection is important in your personal growth journey. That’s why there is a lot of reflection going on in the below strategies so I encourage you to grab your journal and spend some time reflecting on these tactics. 

Set Clear Goals and Determine your ‘Why’

You may be thinking ‘Okay captain obvious’ since you obviously set a goal to change the habit you’re trying to change but it’s really important to set clear goals and ask yourself why you want to change this habit in the first place. 

To avoid the gravitational pull of bad habits, establishing clear, specific goals with a clear why is going to help tremendously. 

Whether you’re aiming to curb procrastination, start exercising more, or cut down on unhealthy food choices, a well-defined goal gives you a sense of purpose and direction.

Get clear on what this new habit looks like. If it is exercising, how often are you going to exercise? What are you going to do? When are you going to do it? 

Setting these parameters is going to help you create an action plan and be able to actually end up implementing this new habit.

Understanding why you want to make a change and how it aligns with your values and aspirations is going to help you power through when you encounter setbacks or obstacles.

So take a moment to ask yourself why it is important to make this change. If it’s to exercise more, why? Dig deep here and don’t stop at the first answer that comes to mind because that is probably not the reason that is going to keep you going when times get tough. 

Once you set goals and determine a why, you’re going to be in a better place than if you just jumped right into it because you’re going to be more intentional. It is also something that you can look back on when it gets tough or you experience a slip-up.

More on that later…

Replace Rather Than Eliminate

Simply erasing a bad habit from your life can leave a void that can easily be filled by other behaviors that aren’t serving you.

So once you decide on a habit you want to change, ask yourself what you’re going to replace that time with.

For instance, if you’re trying to reduce screen time, replace it with reading, exercising, or spending quality time with loved ones. This will decrease the potential for boredom and wanting to fall back into what you know (i.e. the habit you’re trying to change). 

Practice Mindfulness and Self-Awareness

Your mindset is pivotal in avoiding the trap of falling back into old habits. Having the self-awareness to know that you’re experiencing thoughts, emotions, and triggers that are leading you back towards your bad habits is crucial in order to stop it in the tracks.

So make sure you check in with yourself during this process. Ask yourself some of the following questions: 

  • Are you feeling resistance? Why?
  • What fears are coming up?
  • Is anything triggering you?
  • Are there any specific circumstances that are pulling you back towards your old habits?
  • Is there anyone that is deterring you from making this change? Why?

By asking yourself some of these questions, you can identify what is bothering you and where your limiting beliefs are coming from so that you can tackle them head-on. 

With anything, mindset is a huge part of the puzzle and if you don’t have the mindset tools to power through the hard parts then it’s going to be easy to find yourself back at square one. 

But by recognizing the patterns, you can intervene before these triggers gain control over your actions.

Create an Environment for Success

Your environment plays a significant role in shaping your habits. So pay attention to what you’re doing on a daily basis because you have the habits you have now for a reason.

But sometimes there comes a point where you realize these habits aren’t serving you anymore.

Maybe your goal is to eat healthier but your fridge is stocked with packaged food. Or you want to work out in the morning but that snooze button is right next to your head and you have to stumble around in the dark to find your workout clothes. 

Creating an environment that will set you up for success may look like stocking your fridge with healthier options or meal prepping. If you want to work out in the morning, maybe move your alarm a little farther away and lay your clothes out the night before. 

There are simple ways to make it an easy yes to the new habit. So think of some ways you can give yourself a leg up.

Take a look at your social groups

It’s important to create an environment that is going to set you up for success by removing temptations and setting boundaries with your relationships. 

So pay attention to who is surrounding you.

Most likely you’ve adopted a lot of the same habits the people around you have. It makes sense since you’re spending a lot of time with them and you entered this relationship with them because you enjoyed spending time with them doing something.

Maybe it’s a group of friends that drink alcohol all the time or all they do is complain about their life but don’t do anything about it.

You can change the above scenarios with a little communication or preparation. 

Be honest with your friends that you would rather not drink or complain about your life because it’s affecting your mental or physical health. If they are people worth keeping around, they will understand.

Or tell your partner that you really want to start pursuing a passion of yours and that you wish to reduce the amount of time you’re watching TV. Or that you’d rather partake in activities that will bring you closer together rather than sitting in silence all night. 

There are ways to set yourself up for success. It will increase your chances of succeeding if you create an environment where that new habit makes sense. 

Celebrate small wins

If you celebrate small wins along the way, it will make the journey a lot more enjoyable.

Just think about it. James Clear wrote about Phillippa Lally’s study that found it can take anywhere between 18 days to 254 days to build a new habit so it can take a while — up to 8 months! And honestly, it is a lifelong journey.

It takes time to change your mindset and lifestyle so that your new habit fits into it so celebrate some milestones! Positive reinforcement can boost your motivation and keep you on track. 

Treat yourself to something enjoyable, like a relaxing spa day or a movie night. Just make sure it isn’t something that you may consider ‘cheating’ on your new habit. 

Stay Accountable

Accountability is a powerful tool in maintaining your commitment to change. Share your goals with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor who can offer support, encouragement, and a gentle nudge when you’re veering off course. 

Even joining a support group or an online community with similar objectives can help you feel more accountable to show up (and an added bonus is that you could meet a new friend who has the same values as you).

Online communities are great for introverts because it is a way to build connections with others while being in the comfort of your own home. 

Practice Self-Compassion

You spend the most time with yourself so you have got to stop beating yourself up. You aren’t going to be able to wake up one day and magically have this new habit instilled into your routine, it doesn’t work like that. (I know, wouldn’t it be nice if it did.. but also it wouldn’t be so nice for the not-ideal habits… I digress). 

So give yourself grace and meet yourself where you’re at right now. Sure, you have habits that you want to change but isn’t it pretty awesome that you have built up the self-awareness that this habit doesn’t serve you anymore?

Changing your habits is a learning process after all. You have to learn how to fit this new habit into your daily routine which isn’t always as easy as we think. 

Accept the fact that there will be slip-ups

You messed up, welcome to being human! Taking the time to acknowledge that this journey to a new habit isn’t going to be linear is going to help you feel better when the time comes that you do have a slip-up or encounter an obstacle. 

Because it is going to happen. If it doesn’t then your goals are probably not big enough because there is a good chance that you’re still in your comfort zone. When you’re stretching yourself, you’re going to feel resistance which is going to cause setbacks. It’s just our nervous system trying to keep us safe.

This is important in some aspects like not going outside in a lightning storm or walking into traffic but not so much when it comes to putting yourself out there whether that means waking up early and working on your goals or asking your manager for the promotion you deserve. 

Accepting the fact that you’re going to mess up is going to make it a little easier to push through this mental block. It will help you get out of the perfectionist mindset which is essential because none of us are perfect. 

So then when you do slip up, you can jump right back into it and avoid the pity party because you know that it is just part of the process of replacing your habits. 

Be kind to yourself throughout your journey. Understand that setbacks are a natural part of the process, and slipping back into old habits doesn’t define your progress. 

Develop Consistent Routines

Consistency is key when it comes to avoiding bad habits. Establishing a daily routine that aligns with your goals creates structure and direction which is helpful when you’re trying to implement a new habit. 

Because then you have goals for the day and you have a plan for what you should be doing. And yeah, your routine can look different from day to day, mine changes depending on if I’m going into the office, if I’m working from home, or if it’s the weekend.

However, cultivating a weekly routine that works well with your energy and schedule is going to help significantly. If you aren’t sure where to start, I have a daily planner that you can use to start tracking your days to see how they are structured now.

This is especially helpful if you’re wondering where the day went when it’s 5 p.m. and you haven’t accomplished anything off your to-do list. Because then you can create a clear plan of action on how to implement your new habits.

Over time, these routines become habits themselves, making it easier to steer clear of the behaviors you’re trying to avoid.

Breaking free from bad habits is an ongoing commitment that requires patience, discipline, self-awareness, and mindset work. 

By setting clear goals, replacing negative behaviors with positive alternatives, and fostering self-awareness, you can build a solid foundation for lasting self-improvement.

Remember that the path to change isn’t linear – it’s okay to stumble, as long as you keep moving forward with resilience and determination. Your journey toward a healthier, more fulfilling life is within your grasp, and by implementing these strategies, you’re well on your way to success.

Until next time,

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Breaking the Cycle: How to Escape Bad Habits for Good

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