Breaking a bad habit is affected by the incentive and the impact of it. What’s the benefit of your bad habit, and what effect does it have on your life?
A bad habit gets in the way of you living a fully happy and satisfying life. The habit is “bad” since it usually consumes resources that otherwise you would use to improve your well being. By changing, breaking, or quitting your bad habits, you can live a more fulfilling life.
Changing bad habits are on the to-do list of many people, but only a few succeed. That’s because there is no shortcut to change, it requires work that most of us aren’t willing to do. You could say that living life properly is already the shortcut, and looking for a fake shortcut actually makes you move slow.
These shortcuts are what created the bad habits in the first place. Changing your habits require you to look at some aspects of your life that might be uncomfortable to inspect. It’s a good idea to take the “proper” approach that might feel slow at first, but is actually the fastest path.
Here are a few questions to inspect that can help you change habits with ease:
Table of Contents
1. What’s the Incentive of the Bad Habit?
Every human being does an action because there is an incentive, regardless whether the action is good or bad. In terms of illegal activities, they occur because there is an incentive for the criminals to do so (usually in the form of money).
The incentive, or the benefit, of the bad habit is why we do it. We may not realize it on the surface, or we may not admit it even if we do realize it, but there is a benefit to our bad habit. What we get from the benefit or incentive is what keeps us continuing to maintain our bad habits.
There is a story: A woman who was terminally ill had difficulty getting back to health. After some time and consulting with practitioners, she discovered that she chose to stay ill because she had an incentive to do so.
Her incentive was that when she was ill, her family would pay more attention to her and they would quarrel less between themselves. Her family was happier when she was in a serious illness. She was afraid that if she became healthy, her family would start fighting with each other again.
Illness isn’t a bad habit (though it can arise from bad habits). If incentives can motivate a person to stay ill, they can surely motivate us to maintain our bad habits. Whether it’s smoking, addiction, or less severe bad habits such as procrastinating, they all carry benefits that we like.
Changing a bad habit requires us to identify what is the incentive we get, what is the benefit? Once we know, we understand that whatever that incentive is, it’s a stronger incentive than the benefit we get from changing the habit.
For example, we sleep late to watch TV, or read our social media news feeds, or play games on our smartphones. The benefit is that we get entertainment and have fun or some guilty pleasure instead of getting adequate rest.
In the short term, getting our brain entertained has more benefit that getting enough rest for long-term health. At least, based on our bad habits, it implies that we value being entertained more than being healthy.
Knowing the incentive doesn’t immediately change our bad habits, but acknowledging the incentive of the bad habit helps us to begin to change them.
2. What is the Impact of the Bad Habit?
Other than knowing the benefit, the other part is knowing the impact or effect of that bad habit. The impact is what happens to you, or what will happen, if you keep that habit?
The impact of the habit may not be visible immediately. Some bad habits have effects that occur only after a long time. Smoking is considered a bad habit, and won’t show the detrimental effects until a serious health condition arrives.
Drinking to the point of minor alcohol addiction may be visible once relationships start to crumble or illness occurs. Procrastinating work or tasks doesn’t immediately have an impact, but it can make achieving your goals become much longer.
The problem is that our brain is incentivized by short term pleasure and is willing to sacrifice long-term gains. Even though we know the impact of bad habits, we still do them because the short-term incentive is much more favorable – it gives us instant pleasure.
Not everyone may know the hidden incentive of their bad habits, but the unwanted impact is mostly known by most, e.g people who smoke know the possible health outcomes.
That said, because of the instant pleasure incentive, understanding the long-term impact doesn’t immediately make us change habits. But it can help us to make a conscious choice to start reducing our bad habits before the dangerous effects come.
We trade our short-term pleasure to get long-term pleasure.
Changing the Habit
Changing a habit isn’t as simple as making a declaration (though it can be!). It’s actually possible to simply say “I quit smoking,” and then not smoke anymore. But in most cases it doesn’t happen that way. It happens gradually over time.
Some bad habits can be changed bit by bit, one part at a time. An example is a writer I follow who handles procrastination by allowing herself to do anything she wants as long as she is sitting in front of a piece of paper. After a few minutes, and not having anything else to do, she begins to write.
She didn’t force herself to not procrastinate, instead she changed the condition a little, one part at a time, enough to get her to do the good habit. Another approach is to write one paragraph instead of writing a page. Get one foot moving, and then try to move the other foot.
The incentive to keep or change your habit is affected by your ingrained patterns and threshold for pain. If you have a long-term bad habit, it becomes a pattern that has deep roots and can be tough to uproot unless you have specific methods. If the bad habit doesn’t cause enough discomfort, there’s no motivation for you to change it.
The average time it takes to start a new habit is around 66 days. But if your bad habits are affected by the two factors above, then it can take a longer time to change them. Knowing the incentive and the impact of the bad habits can reduce the time it takes to change it.
Keep in mind the incentive and the impact, and whether it’s a bad habit from ingrained patterns when you’re trying to break out of a bad habit. It’s best to change that habit before the situation becomes painful enough that you’re forced to change.