When we consider ways to be happier and healthier, we often think about adding things like exercise, healthy foods, supplements, or meditation. However, we need to give up some self-destructive habits to be our most joyful, healthy selves.
In this article, we’ll look at seven habits with toxic effects and how to give them up for good!
Recognizing a negative habit when it happens is the first step toward change. Do you recognize any of these culprits in yourself?
- Negative self-talk
- Reliving mistakes
- Judging others or yourself
- Worrying about worst-case scenarios
- Comparing our lives to others
If you’re thinking “of course I do that, everyone does,” you’re right. We have regrets, worries, and concerns about the future sometimes. Everyone complains and compares lives at some point.
But if these seven habits are not quashed quickly, they become the negative narrative of our lives. They undermine us, our efforts, and our relationships. Worse, studies reveal that focusing on our mistakes, problems, and struggles leads to mental illness.
How do we stop? Thankfully, any habit can be changed, even the deeply ingrained. In his book, “The Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg explains that if we want to change and believe we have the willpower to, we can. He offers four steps to observe your habit loop and its three components: the cue, the routine, and the reward.
4 Steps to Change a Negative Habit
Be mindful of the routine – catch the culprit in the act! An example: “I notice every time I make a mistake, I run it over and over in my mind. I lose sleep thinking about what I should have done and how I always make dumb mistakes.” These thoughts include negative self-talk, reliving a mistake, a should-have, and self-judgement. Try to be an unbiased observer, simply noticing, not judging.
Experiment with different rewards. Believe it or not, your brain doesn’t know a good habit from a bad habit. It gets chemical “rewards” for both. Instead of chiding yourself, try swapping empathy for the negative self-talk. Speak to yourself as if you were a small child. Soothe yourself. “I see you made a mistake, that happens to everyone. You can’t go back and fix it, but can you learn anything from this? What would have been better?”
Isolate the cues. When the negative habit starts, notice: What time is it? Where are you? Who are you with? What happened right before this? You might notice you feel jealous or judgmental after you look at social media. You may feel scared or depressed after reading the news? You may make more mistakes late in the day when you’re tired. These observations are crucial to changing the habit.
- Plan your new action and practice it. Armed with this valuable insight about your habit, you’re ready for new action. Plan what you’ll do differently when you catch yourself. You might try practicing mindfulness, saying an affirmation, or visualizing best-case scenarios.
For mindfulness, focus on your breath or footsteps for 10 seconds. You might say, “I am breathing in. I am breathing out.” This calms your nervous system and relaxes you. Psychologists say we can also distract ourselves from negative thinking by engaging with the present moment. A common exercise is naming something you see, hear, smell, taste, feel?
An affirmation may sound like, “I am human and this is no big deal,” “things always work out for me in the end,” or “I am so grateful for my life just how it is.” Affirmations can feel add at first because we’re so used to our current thought patterns. Change always feels uncomfortable, but as you do this, you establish a clear vision of the life you want to create for yourself. Knowing where you want to go is the key to getting there!
Visualizing best-case scenarios requires practice too. Rather than follow a thought path of despair and worst outcomes, ask “what if.” What if none of that happens? What if x happens instead? This is especially powerful for journaling. Fill a page with all the bad things that might happen... and then fill the next page with all the miraculous things that might happen.
With these steps, we hope you can give up these seven self-destructive habits. But if willingness and practice aren’t enough, please seek help. Counselors and therapists have diverse tools to help you change negative thought patterns. A happier, healthier life awaits.
Wishing you healthy thoughts and habits!