How to Control Your Habits (So They Don’t Control You)

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Will Durant

My bad habits have always been something I’ve struggled with. Smoking weed was hard for me to quit because I was in the habit of smoking every night. So I’d get home from work and it was assumed that it would happen. It was my natural reaction to getting home from work. Part of the reason I was able to quit was because I got away from home for a while. I took a vacation, and didn’t take any with me. So for the better part of a week, it was easy. And when I got back from my trip, it was easier to keep it up. It was something I hadn’t done in a while.

Habits are things that we do automatically, usually based on our location, circumstances, the time of day, etc. And, by definition, these automatic things are done without thinking. And this is normal. It simplifies our lives. But sometimes we fall into habits that aren’t affecting us in positive ways. In those cases, we have two choices. One, we can keep doing what we’re doing and hope for the best. Or two, we can change the habit. If you want change, here is what you can do.

Replace it with a new habit

This one is pretty straightforward. Whenever you feel the need to do one thing, do something else instead. If you’re trying to quit drinking soda, start drinking tea instead. Especially if it’s something that you’re used to doing at a certain time or place, this is a good way to feel a little less like you’re missing out. You’re not getting the same thing you had before, but you have something to replace it.

For example, this has completely revolutionized what I do on my phone. I used to play a lot of games on my phone. Whenever I wasn’t doing anything, I would pull out my phone and start doing that. Eventually, I decided that that was a huge waste of time. So I deleted them. Most of them, at least. And in their place on my home screen, I put more productive apps. Kindle. Duolingo. The Bible. Things that I can spend my time on that might help me learn something.

Change your location

Like I said in the intro, this has been really helpful for me. First of all, being away from home for a while helped me break a habit that I wanted to break, and that was a good thing. Vacations can be a great way to jump start change. It’s easier to avoid old habits when you’re in a new place.

Also, I’ve noticed that if I’m just coming home from work and sitting in my room, I tend to engage in a lot of the same activities I’m used to doing there. Much of the time, that involves watching Netflix or YouTube or gaming on my computer. In case you haven’t noticed it, there’s a bit of a pattern here. I kind of have a weakness for video games.

So I don’t always go home right after work. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on a bench with my laptop, somewhere near the ocean. I know if I was at home I’d be having a much harder time getting things done. So I’m not there.

Change your company

“You are the average of the five people you most associate with,”    -Tim Ferriss

Another quote that’s hard to attribute, but it has always made me think. When I was younger, I didn’t buy into it. I figured that I was who I was and I hung out with people because I liked them. But as I’ve grown, I’ve noticed more and more that it’s true.

You should always do your best to spend your time with people who influence you in positive ways. People who can relate to you. People who have similar hopes and dreams. People who help you grow instead of holding you back. People who are more talented, smarter, and more motivated.

I’ve done well with this one. I don’t have a lot of friends, but that’s okay. Because the friends I do have are awesome people. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be making an effort to keep them in my life.

Some of them I’ll go a couple months (or years) at a time without talking to, because staying in touch isn’t one of my strengths. But the people who are important to me will never be forgotten. Because they influence me in positive ways, and they help me build up my good qualities. And then good habits come much easier.

In conclusion

It’s funny how you can want to behave one way, but find yourself doing the opposite time and time again. Choosing instant gratification instead of long-term satisfaction. Once you fall into a bad habit, it’s not always easy to climb back out.

But if you can replace it with something better, disrupt a habitual action with a new location, and make sure you’re spending time with people who care about you and will help you succeed, you have a chance.

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