How To Beat a Bad Habit

Do you have a bad habit that you want to change?  I’ve got a few.  One of them is that I’ve gotten out of the habit of regularly exercising.  As I’ve settle into my work as a therapist / Missionary Care Coordinator (and work predominantly from home), exercise hasn’t fit naturally into my daily rhythm.  

Here is my plan to change this bad habit.  It might work for you, too:

  1. I’m using my whole brain to prepare for the change.  I’m imagining what making this change is going to do for me, how much better I’ll feel and how much more I’ll be able to live into my goals and dreams.  I’m imagining the positive impact this will have on my wife and son. I’m also planning when and where I’ll exercise.  This imagination and planning is key—it engages the left and right sides of my brain, helping to reroute my neural pathways.
  2. I’m engaging my support system.  I’m letting my family know about this change I want to make, and I’ll share it with a few friends as well. I’m asking them to remind me and to reinforce my effort, and I’m letting them know specifically how I’d like them to do that.
  3. I’m prepared to make gradual improvements.  I’m not going from exercising once a week to running a marathon.  Rather, I’m going to add 20 minutes 2x a week (on Tuesday and Thursday) plus 1 hour on the weekend (on Sunday).  This is not an ambitious plan—it’s a do-able one.  Also, my goal is SMART—it’s Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.
  4. I’ve made failure high-stakes.  Today I wrote a check to the presidential candidate I don’t want to support—the person I would hate to see elected.  It’s a big enough check that it would really hurt to have to mail it in.  Just writing the check was motivating.  The only way to stop that check from being mailed in is to meet my goal.  If I didn’t want to fail before, now I really don’t want to.  The stakes are really high--failure is not an option.
  5. I’ve put reminders into my life.  I’ve scheduled exercise into my calendar, and I’ve got that check taped to my computer so I can see it everyday.  
  6. I’ve got a back up plan. I’ve asked my wife to remind me on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday if I don’t exercise the day before.  If something comes up and I need to miss a day, that’s fine as long as I make it up.
  7. Finally, I know why I’m doing this.  I know how this leads directly to the quality of life I want to live.  I know how it is rooted in my core values.  I know why it matters and what it means to me.

Habits are automatic.  This is why changing them is so hard.  Frankly, desire and guilt isn’t enough.  We’ve got to engage our whole brain and our support network.  We’ve got to make small steps often in the right direction, and we’ve got to make the stakes high and the reminders impossible to miss.

Finally, we need to commit now to getting up at least one more time than we fall down.  I may have to mail that check in one day.  If I do, I’ll write another check and try again.  

What has helped you to change a bad habit in the past?