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Posted by on Feb 5, 2010 in Lifestyle, TG Roundup

7 Ways To Break A Habit

[Via – Dragos Roua]

Habits are a very precious asset. They allow us to drive cars or ride a bike, to speak new languages or to predictably behave in society. But they can also become a burden. Or, even worse, an addiction. Think about smoking and you’ll understand what I mean. Knowing how to break a bad habit will free precious time and resources.

Here’s a list of 7 proven methods for breaking habits. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

1. Cold Turkey

That’s my preferred method, but it doesn’t always work as expected. Breaking a habit cold turkey requires a lot of raw energy. Usually, I start breaking a habit cold turkey after a painful event generated by that habit. For example, I quit smoking after a huge party which of course generated an awful hangover. I felt so bad the next day that I instantly decided to quit smoking for good. And I did it without any effort. Or so I felt, like I didn’t make any effort. Fact is I never had another cigarette after this event.

Breaking a bad habit cold turkey is one of the most empowering ways to handle habits. Because you don’t use any external support you gain enormous power over it. You’re actually become the master of that habit, commanding it to stop. And if you manage to create a successful history of abruptly breaking other habits, you’ll find it easier to do it again. It builds confidence and experience. But it’s also one of the most unreliable ways to break a habit. You may not have enough energy for it or you’ll lack the external support for that. Use with caution.

2. Find A Higher Stake

Sometimes, you do something because you’re simply setting for less. And you don’t event know that. When I was younger I had a gambling problem. I used to practice my risk taking capacities against randomness. Beating a slot machine seemed a worthy enough experience for me. That gambling problem ended the moment I found a bigger challenge: creating my own company. My risk taking capacities found a higher stake. Now I was risking my money, my employees money and a lot of other things on the side. All of a sudden, gambling was nothing.

Replacing the current stake of your habit with a bigger one always works. We’re designed to grow and evolve. And our habit management system knows that. So every time you’re able to offer a new target to this habit management system, it will adapt very fast. If you smoke because you’re bored try crosswords or learn a new language. If you’re constantly late at work, try joining the Marines. And if you’re spending too much money, train to become a stock market broker.

3. Start A Parallel Habit

This method works by pressuring your focus span with more and more habits. It’s like squeezing too many groceries into one bag: at some point, the bag will crash. For instance, if you have the habit of watching television at night, try getting your laptop closer and start checking email. It seems like instead to break one habit, you’re creating another one. That’s an illusion, because you’re not creating a habit, you’re pressuring your focus system with more stimulus.

At some point, your focus will break. You won’t be able to enjoy tv, nor to understand something from your email. And, surprisingly enough, you’ll ditch both activities and settle for something new. Perhaps a walk in the park or some small gardening. Crowding your habit horizon with new and demanding activities will weaken you sooner or later and you’ll end up getting rid of all the habits involved. It’s a little bit awkward, I agree, but it works.

4. Delegate It To Someone Else

If you don’t have enough power to break up with your habit maybe it’s time to bring somebody else in to help you with that. Find somebody who’s willing to help and give him power over your habit. You can do this in many ways. For instance, you can empower that person to perform some sort of physical action upon you every time you’re caught in that nasty habit. Every time you see me smoking, you can pinch me. Or kick my ass. Or just make fun of me.

It requires some extra work and an extra person but it’s effective. I know a case of somebody who just couldn’t quit smoking. He was quite a visible person in his town so after he tried many commercial products and attended many self help workshops, to no result, he decided to put a huge billboard with his picture on it and a very clear message: “If you see me smoking, I’ll pay you 100.000 dollars”. Last time I heard he never had a cigarette since then. 100.000 dollars is a pretty big sum.

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