Creatures Of Habit: New Habits For Better Health

COML Staff

Part 1: How To Break Old Habits — And Establish New Ones

Now that we’ve covered a few bad habits which may have taken root, we’d like to move on to suggest a few new, beneficial ones; first, though, we need to be realistic. Habits can be seriously hard to break, and just as hard to establish.

Fortunately, there’s a strategy which has worked for me, personally, and which I think might work for you: instead of trying to break an old habit, then establish a new one, try this: simply change the old habit into the new one.

It still won’t be easy. It’s going to take time — but I think you can do it. Let me provide you with an example of how I broke one of the hardest habits there is to break, and how I did it.

From the ages of 19 to 36 — almost half my life, at that point — I had been a pack and a half a day smoker. I didn’t want to quit. Even as I faced a tough choice — quit or find a new place to live that hadn’t banned smoking on the premises — I didn’t want to give up smoking. I liked nicotine, and I still do today.

But I changed how I consume nicotine to a reduced-harm alternative to smoking that still satisfies in the same way, but with only 5% of the risk. The transition wasn’t quick, and it wasn’t easy — but it was worth it. But I did it by changing the nature of the habit, rather than trying to break the habit outright. A hot cylinder of paper between my fingers has been replaced by smooth metal that fills my hand. Hot, arid, noxious smoke has been replaced by warm, moist vapor. But it was similar enough to the old habit that the new one simply took its place.

So if you find yourself licking your lips when you’re nervous, pop a stick of chewing gum in your mouth. Rather than trying to stop the action that accompanies nerves, change the nature of the action.

Will this work for every bad habit? It would be dishonest of me to claim to be absolutely certain that it will — but it would be a disservice to you on my part if I didn’t share the idea with you and encourage you to explore it.

Give it a try — you just might be surprised at how much easier the struggle to break bad habits and replace them with new ones becomes.