Why is it so difficult to replace bad habits with good ones? Partly, I guess, because ingrained habits are embedded and entrenched over time into our daily activities. We forget we have them until someone brings them up to us. Yes, nothing is stronger and stealthier than habits!
Regardless of how many bad habits you have, you must proceed in “baby steps” to effectively deal with them. Mark Twain said that habits can't be flung out the window, they must be coaxed downstairs, one step at a time. Do you have so many bad habits that you don't know which one to tackle first? Take a lesson from Duane. He smoked and drank too much, overate, gossiped, cussed, consumed a high-fat diet, and had a negative attitude about most things. He sought counseling and was turned off by the term “baby steps”, which his counselor often used. However, Duane soon learned the importance of employing the "baby step" approach when attempting to change his bad habits. It’s a drawn-out, difficult process where he worked diligently on changing one bad habit at a time before moving on to the next one.
As you proceed through the Finding Happiness in America manual, you'll run into an exercise called "Replace the bad with the good!" which I'd like to share:
Find a comfy sofa or chair and relax. Begin thinking about your long-range goals, aspirations and what you'd like your ideal life to be like. Spend some time doing this. Next, reflect on your present daily routine and customs. Think about things you regularly say and talk about along with the behavioral actions you routinely take. Write these habits down with specificity. Determine which ones facilitate the attainment of your dreams and put a (+) sign by them. Similarly, decide which ones clash with your goals and aspirations and place a (-) sign before them. Keep this list readily available. Now, you can no longer conceal (from yourself) how your current bad habits are imprisoning your future! You're now in a position to attack your bad habits cognitively, to undermine your entrenched (-) bad habits by deliberately attending to how your good but often under-utilized (+) habits will empower you to succeed in reaching your dreams.
The only difference between losers and winners is the differences in their habits. It takes constant effort to integrate good habits into your daily routine. You may be a slave to bad habits today, but you have the power to become a master over good habits tomorrow.
Proceed in “baby steps” by setting short, easily-reachable goals and focus on replacing one bad habit at a time. While harmful behaviors become habitual almost immediately, studies reveal that it takes around 21 days of daily practice before admirable habits become ingrained in us.
Isn't it strange how good habits erode swiftly and catch hold sluggishly while the opposite is true with bad ones? Fight the omnipresent temptation to say to yourself “One of these days I’ll begin on what I want to accomplish.” As time marches on, “one of these days” may become “none of these days”.
Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. authored the book "Finding Happiness in America" and has retired from his positions of school psychologist and adjunct professor in the School of Leadership and Policy Studies at Bowling Green State University.