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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Want to achieve your goals? Replace or reduce negative habits.

blocks spelling bad habits are getting changed to good

Habits are automatic behaviors, actions we take without conscious thought. To change a habit requires the opposite – conscious thought and effort.

Which is easier – creating a new habit or eliminating an old one?

Neither is easy. Eliminating negative habits generally requires replacing them with positive habits, which means doing both creating and eliminating.

Let’s explore several habit hacks that help us to replace or reduce negative habits.

Make negative habits inconvenient.

We explored how making positive behaviors more convenient helped us make them more habitual in Creating habits to meet your goals? Make them easy and convenient. The converse is also true. When we make negative habits inconvenient, we are less likely to engage in them.

A common example of a negative habit, which is easily made less convenient, is the overuse of electronic devices. If you want to stop yourself or others from staring at screens during meals, make the table a screen-free zone. Park cell phones outside the dining room or kitchen for the duration of the meal.

A related example is playing video games when work needs to be completed, or time is better spent on another activity. Removing game apps from devices is an extreme measure with parking the device out of sight as a less extreme approach.

Another example is overeating sweets or salty snacks if large quantities are easily accessible. Make them inconvenient by putting them out of sight rather than out in plain view.

Additionally, keeping what is available in individual portions makes overeating inconvenient. Freeze homemade cookies individually. Purchase chips in snack-size packages. You’re much more likely to be satisfied with the single portion than be inconvenienced by opening multiple packages.

Use loophole spotting to reduce negative habits.

Credit for this habit hack goes to Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before, and other books on habits, happiness, and our personal tendencies to behave in certain ways. She describes 10 categories of loopholes.

A loophole is an excuse we use to practice a negative habit or delay changing negative habits into positive ones. Here are four of Rubin’s loopholes with examples:

  • Moral licensing loophole “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this.” Food is often a reward making this loophole commonly used for overindulgences.

  • Tomorrow loophole “It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow.” A classic loophole for sedentary behavior or procrastinating on goals like writing.

  • Lack of control loophole “I can’t help myself.” This negative self-talk can apply to any negative behavior, certainly ones with an addictive quality such as smoking.

  • This doesn’t count loophole “I’m on vacation” “I’m sick” “It’s the weekend” This loophole is the reason so many positive habits are paused during a vacation never to return.

Read Rubin’s post for the other six. Spot these and other loopholes and prevent them from keeping you from achieving your goals.

Determine when abstaining or moderating is the best approach.

Not all negative habits need to be eliminated. Some are fine to allow in moderation or on occasion. Others are so damaging it is best to totally abstain from practicing. Let’s look at examples of each category.

Negative habits like drinking and driving, taking drugs, or smoking are ones best to abstain from entirely. Less physically dangerous but certainly damaging, are negative habits such as gossiping or bullying. Abstain from those as well. Ideally, never start these habits so there’s no need to eliminate them.

Negative habits like staying up late, binge-watching television, or skipping a workout are ones that require moderation more than elimination. Make them inconvenient, spot loopholes, and replace them with positive habits you find personally rewarding.

Your turn to reduce or replace negative habits.

Have you identified any negative habits getting in the way of achieving your goals?

Take time to determine ways to make them inconvenient, overcome any loopholes you use as excuses, and decide whether abstaining or moderating is the best approach to reducing or replacing them with positive habits.

The next post in the series will explore the importance of accountability, positive self-talk and flexibility.

“Nothing happens until the pain of remaining the same outweighs the pain of change.” ~ Arthur Burt

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