Using Bad Habits to Your Benefit
“Doing more of what you should instead of less of what you shouldn’t,” is what I call the current approach I take to overcoming bad habits; I’ll refer to it as MSLS for short.
Note: this is basic Psych 101 stuff and not meant to be medical advice. Take everything I say with a grain of wheat. If you have serious issues or addictions, see a doctor.
Now to the fun stuff!
This will seem counterintuitive, but the basic idea is that you can continue your bad habit! However, you must do a counter habit MORE.
This approach is for people who tirelessly negotiate with themselves and lose, people who feel they’ve tried everything.
People who start a fitness program:
They skip the gym and resolve to hit it twice as hard tomorrow, but they don’t.
People who start diets:
They cheat on their diet and promise to eat twice as healthy the next day, but it doesn’t happen.
People who promise to quit something negative:
They sneak “just a little” and it cascades into something worse than before they started.
Eventually, the guilt and disappointment produced by these behaviors take its toll and they give up.
MSLS is about micro steps. Its purpose is to build tiny bits of momentum through reference experience so that bigger issues can be tackled with confidence.
Here are a few aspects to consider:
Understand: Suppression Creates Obsession
The moment you declare something forbidden it becomes desirable. The more you suppress thoughts about your bad habit, the more important it appears. Have you ever tried to NOT think about something and then found yourself thinking about it?
With this approach you don’t declare the bad habit off-limits, therefore, it doesn’t become even more desirable.
Key point: Restriction is counterproductive.
Focus: Identify with the Positive Habit
This approach is oriented around promotion, not prevention. Your focus is on doing the good habit, not quitting the bad one.
Instead of thinking, “I can’t have junk food,” which immediately makes it desirable; think, “I can have all the healthy food I’d like!”
It is extremely important that you begin to identify yourself with the positive habit. You must, “conceive before you can achieve.”
Key point: How you view yourself influences your behavior, so see yourself as a “healthy eater.”
Action: Good First, Bad Later
Your every thought, choice, and action will either reinforce a bad habit or a good one.
With MSLS you can do as much of the bad habit you want, as long as you do the good habit more often. There’s one caveat however: you must do the good habit first! Even if it’s only a fraction. This is paramount!
For example, if your goal is to
quit drinking alcohol drink more water, before you drink alcohol FIRST consume a glass of water. At minimum you should take a DRINK of water (fraction of the good) before drinking the alcohol.
Another example, you have to read 10 pages for homework due tomorrow, but you feel a strong desire to check your social media. Most people will say, “I’ll just check real quick then get to reading.” But an hour passes and they’re still scrolling through posts. Guilt and disappointment set in. Game over!
How would the MSLS approach work in this situation?
Optimally, you read the 10 pages first, then check your social media. But you could also just read one page, or even just one paragraph! The point is that you reinforce the good habit first. Many times you’ll start out doing just a fraction of the “work” and then keep going because you’re already there!
Start conditioning yourself to put in the “work” before receiving the “reward.” Before long you’ll find that those micro steps have become leaps in progress.
Key point: You rid yourself of a bad habit eventually by replacing it with a good one.