Habits: what if you want to kick them?

They say a habit is formed in 21 days. So if for 3 weeks you have been persistently and consistently doing something, you are stuck with that habit. Some habits are great to be “stuck with”, like for example the habit of drinking a glass of water in the morning or an exercise routine, or the daily learning of 5 new words in a foreign language. There are, however, also less positive habits: watching TV while eating, spending hours playing computer games, eating candies in the evening, you name it. Your life is a matter of your choice, of course, and it is totally up to you to put a plus or a minus sign in front of a particular habit (as long as you are in control and understand what you are doing). Moreover, your attitude can also change with time. Thus, a habit that you enjoyed or accepted yesterday, might be a burden today and then the question comes: how do I kick the unwanted habit?

In this post I will share some of my tips on kicking unwanted habits: both those of your own and of your kids. As always, if you have some other nice tips to add, please share them in the comment section below.

To begin with, what do we understand as a habit? 

A habit in my view is a certain behavior pattern that you repeat regularly. This is something usual and almost automatic for you; sometimes to the point that a habit is perceived as a part of who you are. One should not confuse a habit and an addiction, as the latter is already a habit “gone extremely bad”. Basically, in my view once a habit starts to get out of control and move towards becoming an addiction, it is time to act without further delay and kick that habit full force.

To give you some examples. When I was in high school at one point in time I got very much into playing strategy games on PC. It was of course nothing like the games there are nowadays, still there were several pretty good ones (Civilization, War Craft, some others). I got hooked on them big time! It was to the point that I came from school and played almost non-stop until midnight. It required me much less than 21 days to have that habit of playing. However, it literally “killed” much more than 21 days of my life. When I understood that I am failing to control it, at first I tried to set some limits for myself, but that barely worked. Then I tried to find something else that would be as interesting as building a virtual village and conquering another virtual territory, but somehow that didn’t work either. My habit of playing was getting out of control. So I found the one and only solution – I have uninstalled everything and broke the CD’s in halves. For about a week it was “painful”, but it passed. That moment was also one of the first triggers for me to start defining my goals and priorities. Thus, to kick this unwanted habit of mine, I just removed the temptation and reconsidered my priorities.

Another example is related to our kids. At one point in time they used to be extremely bad eaters. Nothing worked! We tried persuasion, we tried “letting it go”, we tried making food look attractive… Nothing! Except a cartoon. That’s “bad parenting” here, but we decided that getting that broccoli in is more important, so for a while our kids got a cartoon with their dinner. However, we also realized that this was not a habit we wanted them to have! Here another technique came in handy: changing the environment. As long as kids were in their usual surroundings they wanted to have that cartoon and otherwise – forget about eating a healthy dinner.

To kick that nasty habit we employed “special forces”: we selfishly used grannies! During one of our vacations at grannies’ we explained to kids that unfortunately there is no Internet and no way to see a cartoon in the kitchen. It is possible however to see a cartoon immediately after dinner on the TV in the living room. At first there were some “protests”, but with some negotiation techniques and given the change of environment in the end it all worked out pretty fine. Our stay was more than a month, so kids had enough time to form a different habit; and now also at home they get their cartoon only after a healthy dinner. Problem solved. (We actually used grannies / a change of environment for switching from breast- to bottle-feeding; from formula-milk to a regular cow milk; and from baby food jars to “normal” food as well… so thanks God there are grannies!!!)

There were more habits which I kicked at this or that moment in time. The approach of doing that differed based on the particular habit in question. Yet, to conclude my main unwanted habit-kicking techniques are:

  1. admit that you have formed a habit which you don’t want to continue
  2. make a firm decision that you don’t want to have this habit
  3. remove the “problem” – physically: uninstall the program, throw away candies, shut down Internet, whichever applies
  4. try avoiding the temptation at least in the first month: don’t go to places where you might meet the “accomplices”, avoid situations where you might be tempted to go back to that habit
  5. take a moment to reconsider your goals and priorities for your life; decide and design your new positive habits and most importantly – value your new choices!

If all that doesn’t work, remember it is always OK to ask for help: be it of a trusted friend, or a psychologist. Whichever way you choose, it is always better to be in control of your own life and kick the unwanted habits before they become addictions.

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7 thoughts on “Habits: what if you want to kick them?”

  1. I am not sure I can agree with the 21 days thing. I am way past the point of habit with Mountain Dew, it’s a straight up addiction. I went 21 days without it once, but then I jumped right back into it. I am right now in the present starting to work out everyday and I am trying to make that a habit and with that, I am going to try to drink less soda, but I am trying to cut out Mountain Dew completely. Well, because all that soda sorta cuts into all my working out. I don’t want it to be a waste. So here I go again for over the 100th time. This time I am determined to stick to this routine.

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