The Hardest Bad Habit to Break

Plus 5 simple habits which will help you to beat it

If we talk about a single habit the worst habit to get rid of is negative self-talk. Why? Because most of us just accept it as a part of our identity. We don’t even notice it, so we don’t even attempt to get rid of it.

That’s the ‘impossible’ difficulty level. You cannot fight the opponent you don’t even see; you don’t even know he exists.

Negative self-talk is usually at the root of every other bad habit. Being rude, alcoholism, swearing, sleep deprivation, being careless with money, a sedentary lifestyle — all those habits are just symptoms of your faulty thinking processes and behind each of such thinking habits usually lurks the negative self-talk.

You have low self-esteem, so you try to numb it with compulsive shopping or drinking. And where does low self-esteem come from? This vicious little voice in your head whispering:

“I’m stupid. I’m fat. I’m worthless. My father beat me because he didn’t love me; no wonder- I’m downright unlovable. I’m a failure….”

And you don’t even notice those whispers. You act as they were words of the infallible oracle.

Mind Triggers

Do you remember Marty from “Back to the Future?” Whenever someone called him a coward, he felt compelled to prove he wasn’t a coward. Usually, he ended up in big trouble because of that.

It’s the same with our self-talk, only it’s much more subtle because it comes from inside. But the solution to this problem is the same as the solution that worked for Marty: you pause, turn on your conscious thinking processes, examine what’s going on and make a choice how to react. The choice not dictated by your emotions, but by your brain.

“In the space between stimulus (what happens) and how we respond, lies our freedom to choose.
Ultimately, this power to choose is what defines us as human beings. We may have limited choices but we can always choose.
We can choose our thoughts, emotions, moods, words, our actions; we can choose our values and live by principles.
It is the choice of acting or being acted upon.” ― Stephen R. Covey

To do that you need a very elusive skill (well, elusive for modern people) called self-awareness. You need to notice your thoughts sneaking on you to repel them. Self-awareness gives you such power.

Good News

Yes, your thoughts and internal dialog keep you a prisoner. And yes, we are hopeless at noticing and controlling our thought processes.

But you can modify those thoughts by attacking the symptoms. When you break the obvious break habits, the ones that are clearly visible in your life, you become a new person.
When you develop new good habits, it affects who you are. And this new persona has a slightly different thinking pattern, influenced by the change of your circumstances.

You cannot say to yourself “Your fat pig!” if you’ve just lost 10 pounds in the last month. Well, not if you are moderately sane.

However, I deem it an uphill battle. You can liberate yourself from many bad habits if you tackle their common root cause — what is going through your mind.
Instead of taking a detour route, you take the direct one, disarm your internal demons and then you can attack multiple bad habits and create multiple good habits at the same time.

Good Habits in Service of Self-awareness

Develop some self-awareness habits and you will get a fighting chance. You will notice your self-talk, so you will be able to step between the stimulus and reaction.

Here are several good habits very handy for developing self-awareness:

1. Meditation.

It’s a great activity which can bring you benefits practiced even in small doses. Just take three deep breaths and focus your mind on that. That’s the simplest meditation.

Of course, meditation works better in huge doses, but its power lies in the full-out effectiveness of any dose.

2. Journaling.

This activity is also very effective because writing forces you to process your thoughts through the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for abstract thinking. Writing translates emotions and images into words — the language of your conscious mind.

3. Walks.

I don’t believe walks are magical in themselves. They just create space for something modern people desperately need — reflection, free-thinking, lack of digital distractions; and some physical activity, which pumps blood through your brain. Put all of those together and you have a chance to notice your internal voice.

4. Asking for feedback.

It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s about as efficient as journaling. If you are a people person, it may be even more effective because you pay the utmost importance to social cues like tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language.

You can “ask” for feedback even yourself, I do it all the time with my journaling sessions. Make sure though you ask the right questions, focused on solutions (not: “Why I’m so hopeless?!?”).

Asking for feedback works like journaling – to communicate with another human being you need to put together a coherent message and process your emotions and internal images via the prefrontal cortex.

5. Tracking.

Any kind of tracking will do, especially if it involves writing. Your mind is a master liar, it says terrible false things about you, which you believe in.

Tracking is a way to confront your internal voice with reality. How can you be “a fat pig” if you lose 10 pounds and you have daily check-ins from the last month confirming your progress?

Tracking also instills filters in your brain. Track something, anything, and you have much better chances of success than by just trying to wing it.

The single most difficult habit to get rid of is negative self-talk. It’s an invisible enemy most of us don’t even know that exists.

The most efficient way to deal with it, or rather start dealing with it, is increasing your self-awareness.

Why Is It so Easy to Get Addicted to Things that Are Unhealthy but so Difficult to Get Hooked on Healthy Habits

Why Is It so Easy to Get Addicted to Things that Are Unhealthy but so Difficult to Get Hooked on Healthy HabitsThe short answer is: those “unhealthy things” hack directly into our bodily reward system.
Thus, we get an immediate reward (usually: pleasure) from doing them. We crave the pleasure, so the behavior gets reinforced. It easily becomes a habit.

The long answer is more complicated.

The reason why hacking directly into the reward system works so well is that it bypasses the conscious mind. The subconscious mind knows only one tense: now. It is not concerned with the future ramifications of present actions. And it’s quite a primitive creature. Do you feel pleasure? Well, it means this action feels good! Let’s repeat it and get the same pang of pleasure!

No reflections. No pondering of consequences. And your bad habits create on autopilot.

Good Habit Are Easy

Getting hooked on healthy habits is not so difficult. It seems difficult only in comparison with the “zero-effort” way bad habits form.

One of my healthy habits is to eat at least one raw vegetable or fruit a day. It’s very easy. All I need is to remember about the habit (now, after several years it’s my second nature), get a veggie, and munch it.

Yet, it still takes some effort, some investment on the part of my conscious mind. I need to remember. I need to have veggies or fruits at my home. I need to actually perform the action.

Hard Beginnings

It’s even more bothersome at the very beginning when the whole routine is new to you. Even remembering the habit can be an effort. Then, you need actually do it. It’s also beneficial to track it. It’s all the mental effort.

And the reward is not so big. Well, in the beginning, it’s hardly noticeable. And it is certainly not immediate. You switch your diet or exercise for a week before you can see any significant movement on a scale (a few pounds). But you don’t want ‘any!’ You want ‘many!’ And you don’t want them next quarter, but yesterday!

See? Your emotions are working against you. Instant gratification is getting the worst out of you. While developing unhealthy habits you feel nothing but pleasure. While developing healthy habits you often feel disappointment and frustration.

Emotions Are the Problem

BJ Fogg, the behavioral scientist from Stanford University, invented a brilliant addition to the process of developing new habits which make your emotions an ally, not an enemy: you celebrate your habits.

You don’t let your emotions to fend for themselves. You consciously entice the feeling of joy from doing your habit, not from its results. You create your own immediate feedback loop.

How does it look in practice? You do some gesture, or say something nice to yourself like “Nice job!” or “I’m awesome!”

If you have any difficulties imagining what those words or gestures could be, imagine yourself cheering your favorite team in the championships. They just scored! What do you do?! Jump in place? Roar with joy?

This is exactly what you should do to help your healthy habit to develop. Eat a vegetable and roar with joy. Do 10 pushups and jump with excitement. Drink a glass of water and pump your fists in triumph. Prepare a meal and tell yourself: “Well done!”

It takes time to develop good habits. They are worth both time and effort though.

“An immediate reward for lack of discipline is a fun day at the beach. A future reward of discipline is owning the beach.” — Jim Rohn

A future reward for healthy habits is health.

Celebrate each instance of your healthy habit and hack into the emotional reward system of your body.