We hear a lot about good habits and bad habits.

But what exactly is a habit?

A simple way of describing it might be, a pattern of behaviour which is repeated so often, that it becomes automatic. There’s usually a trigger which causes the habit to kick into gear.
Habits are formed as the brain makes connections. The more you do something, the stronger the connection. In a short time, the brain “adopts” the connection and the action soon turns into a habit.

So what’s a good habit?

Easy – in layman terms, we know good habits as the things that we know we’re supposed to do, but sometimes have difficulty doing! Let’s see now – exercising, watching our diet, reading more, sleeping early and rising early, maintaining a calm demeanour, concentrating on our work without distractions, going for regular medical checkups, etc. etc.…sound familiar? ?

In contrast, it’s not difficult to come up with a list of bad habits, either. In a nutshell, these are the things we’re not supposed to be doing, which we generally like to do! Hmm…. eating sweet, oily and fattening foods, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, sitting on the couch watching TV for hours on end, surfing the internet aimlessly, procrastinating, distracting ourselves from doing our work, chatting on Facebook when we’re supposed to be working, losing our temper easily, etc…yes, the list goes on! ?

So what’s our objective?

To cultivate good habits and get rid of bad ones!
Aha! But anyone who has tried to get rid of a bad habit will testify – it’s easier said than done! Our bodies and brains seem to very easily form bad habits, and then, it’s very difficult for us to “kick” the bad habit! Our brains are wired to crave for immediate/instant gratification. The more immediate the gratification is, the more we crave it. This is what makes it so hard to kick bad habits. It’s because we are addicted to that brief moment of pleasure, even though we feel guilty later.

So, how can we overcome our bad habits and replace them with good ones?

Step 1. Identify your goal. Get a blank piece of paper and draw a line down the middle to make 2 columns. On the left, make a list of bad habits you are trying to get rid of, and on the right, make a list of good habits that you’d like to cultivate.

Step 2. Prioritise. Assign priorities to the good and bad habits on both columns. Which are the bad habits that you really need to get rid of as soon as possible to protect your health? (If you smoke, this could be your No.1 ….or perhaps you have gained a lot of weight and it is affecting your health.

If so, this could be your No. 1). At the same time, what are the good habits you could cultivate, in order to offset the effects of the bad habits and, ensure that you won’t be tempted to go back to them? Perhaps, for the earlier example, you could add “getting more exercise” to the “good habits” column.

Step 3. Work out a plan. What small steps can you take right now, tomorrow and this week, to move you closer to the goal of kicking your bad habit and cultivating a good one? Remember, habits will not break or form in just 1 day. It’s no point aiming for the impossible or trying to achieve unrealistic goals. You’ll only end up feeling discouraged and disappointed if you don’t succeed.

Instead, set yourself small, realistic goals. For example, if you are trying to cut down on sweet and sugary foods, first empty your fridge and pantry of all such foods and substitute them with fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean proteins. Plan your meals in advance and eat at home (and pack a lunchbox to work) as much as possible.

It will be easier to try this approach than to “tell yourself” that you will simply not eat sweet and sugary foods. Unfortunately, the likelihood is, you may not be strong enough to resist the temptation. Before you know it, an entire box of cookies or a whole cake could have disappeared…so plan ahead to avoid temptation ?!

Step 4. Create a routine. The thing about habits is, they pretty much operate on autopilot. So, to get rid of a bad habit and cultivate a good one, you need to create a routine that acts as a counter-autopilot. For example, if you want to kick the bad habit of not exercising at all, and want to cultivate a good habit of waking up twenty minutes earlier to fit in a morning workout before work, one option would be to have all your workout clothes, shoes and your water bottle ready near your bed so that you don’t have to “think” about whether to exercise or not, in the morning.

If you did allow yourself to think too long, you might decide not to exercise and go back to sleep instead. But the sight of your clothes all ready next to you as soon as you wake up, could help you resist the urge to succumb to the bad habit and instead, embrace the good habit! Plan in advance and automate systems and processes so that you’re forced to take the desired action and don’t get a chance to “debate” with yourself for too long.

An interesting book to look out for on store bookshelves on the topic of habits is “Better Than Before” by Gretchen Rubin. The book explore specific strategies people can use, to break bad habits. Check it out for a more in-depth analysis of the topic of habits.

Let’s make a commitment to ourselves to get rid of our bad habits and work hard at cultivating good ones, so that we can use our habits to improve the quality of our own lives and those of our loved ones, families and friends.


Personal finance author and trainer

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