Get in control of your health: 10 steps to kick your bad habits
In order to achieve the best health possible, you'll have to be honest with yourself. What bad habits do you have that are damaging to your health in the long run?
Let’s take smoking as an example of a bad habit. Everybody knows smoking is bad for your health, and nobody would smoke anymore if the nicotine wouldn’t be so addictive. This physical addiction makes quitting smoking much harder than, for instance, quitting nail biting.
If you’re not a smoker, read the following, practical 10-step approach I developed and just alter the plan for whatever other bad habit that you want to give up. If the method I’m about to describe here works for giving up smoking, then it will definitely work to kick all of your other bad habits.
Step 1: Determine your objective
In this example, you want to quit smoking and you will never smoke a cigarette anymore. But remember: you can use this 10-step approach to kick virtually all bad habits you have, such as abuse of alcohol, coffee, drugs, or sugar; or nail biting, going to bed too late, being too much of a ‘couch potato’, and so on.
Step 2: Think of everything that might prevent you from reaching this goal
At this stage, it’s important to find out why you are still smoking and why you find it hard to quit.
Do you smoke to relieve stress? Do you smoke to improve your concentration during your work? Do you smoke to find consolation? Do you smoke to reward yourself? Do you smoke to kill the time or to create a ‘moment for yourself’? Do you smoke because you like the social aspect when you are smoking with friends? And do you think you won’t be able to find proper substitutes if you quit smoking?
Or did you start smoking for one or more of the reasons mentioned? And do you still smoke because you are addicted to the nicotine and are not willing to suffer from the withdrawal symptoms?
In 90% of the cases people continue smoking because they are addicted to nicotine, although the majority will come up with all kinds of other excuses.
Step 3: Assess if you are willing to pay the price to kick your bad habit
Although quitting smoking is not as difficult as most smokers assume, you have to be realistic: you have to take some temporary negative symptoms for granted. You will suffer a little bit on the short term, but on the longer term the reward you get will outweigh these discomforts by far. Are you really prepared and willing to go through this phase? Are you strong enough to withstand your urge to smoke when your brains tell you they’re hungry for nicotine?
Step 4: Have faith in yourself: be assured that you will be able to reach your objective
This is a very important step. You will certainly fail if you have doubts about your possibilities to succeed.
If you have doubts, keep in mind that millions of people succeeded in giving up this unhealthy habit. If they could, why wouldn’t you?
Convince yourself that quitting smoking doesn’t have to be difficult at all. The physical withdrawal symptoms won’t last more than a couple of days. It generally takes much longer to manage your psychological withdrawal symptoms. However, this mental addiction can be conquered by bringing structure to your life and by looking for healthy alternatives.
Step 5: Decide to succeed
Instead of ‘giving it a try’ after New Year, firmly decide for yourself that you will never touch a cigarette again. You’re going to give up smoking because you definitely want to yourself. You are going to succeed because you planned for long-term success. If you want to give it try just because you’re fed up with your partner’s nuisance, your chances to succeed will be minimal.
Step 6: Optimize your motivation
When you want to succeed in kicking a bad habit out of your life, it certainly helps to keep in mind all disadvantages of this habit. In this case:
- Smoking is so unhealthy that it decreases your life expectancy with years. And what’s more important, before you die chances are you have to suffer for years, from cancer, heart disease or other nasty diseases.
- During life, smoking increases colds, causes bad skin and ugly teeth, makes you and your clothes smell filthy, and stands in the way of a good condition.
- Smoking costs a lot of money. Imagine the amount of money you could save. Imagine how you could this money to treat yourself to a new wardrobe, a nice vacation etc.
- Smoking only relieves unrest while you’re smoking. Once you finished your cigarette, the craving for nicotine starts again and the thought of your next cigarette gradually comes to your mind. If you smoke, you’re always on the lookout for moments and places where you can light your next cigarette. This causes a lot of tension, especially in public spaces where smoking is banned nowadays.
- Other people might be bothered when you smoke in their proximity.
You must see giving up your bad habit as a gift instead of a sacrifice. This is a golden rule, no matter what habit you want to kick – be it drinking too much, watching too much television, eating to much junk food, going to bed too late, or smoking.
Step 7: Clearly announce your intention to people around you
You will be more determined to succeed if you share your plan with others, because you want to avoid being seen as a weak person. Although ‘pride’ is a negative quality in most circumstances, it will definitely help you to kick a bad habit like smoking. You don’t want to be humiliated if people around you catch you smoking again after you declared that you quit.
Step 8: Write a rigid plan, but be flexible enough to adjust your plan whenever necessary
The majority of smokers try to quit smoking on willpower alone. And guess what… most of them fail.
The reason they fail is that the reward will only appear after a period of discomfort and agitation. Your willpower will be pushed to its limits and may eventually fade away although you might not even acknowledge this.
This is where a sound plan will prove its value. In your plan, you clearly state that you won’t smoke – no matter what situation. You write down you’re not going to smoke on your best friend’s wedding, when you are faced with a difficult task, or whenever some piece of bad luck descends upon you. You also write down in your plan never to give in to the temptation of ‘only one cigarette’. Even if we light one cigarette, your brains are fuelled with nicotine again. This will cause an immediate craving for a next cigarette. Moreover, it will break your new pattern and damage your self-confidence.
On the other hand, you will also have to make a ‘contingency planning’ that you are going to put into effect if you do make the mistake of giving in to your temptation to smoke ‘just one casual cigarette’. Feelings of guilt will overshadow your determination to succeed and make you believe you lack the discipline to stop smoking. It will then be very tempting to use this feeling of guilt as an excuse to give up your plan to quit smoking.
Therefore, clearly include the following promise in your plan: if you make the mistake to smoke a cigarette again, you admit your mistake without feeling too guilty about it. Use your misstep to boost your determination never to fall into this pitfall again. This way you will be better able to resist your next temptation.
In your plan, you also describe how you can avoid the temptation to smoke, for instance by:
• avoiding having a pack of cigarettes in your proximity;
• avoiding places where you know people smoke;
• surrounding yourself with people that can keep an eye on you;
• taking more exercise and live healthier in general;
• having chewing gum or some healthy food at your disposal to distract yourself.
Your plan must be rigid enough to keep yourself to your promises, yet you must be flexible enough to change the plan when and where necessary.
Suppose you thought you could still go to your favorite bar on Friday nights, but you discover the smoking of your friends around you tempts you too much to refrain from smoking. As soon as you discover this, go back to your plan and add ‘I’m not going to this bar for the next four weeks’. You tell your friends about it, and you refer to your updated plan if they try to convince you to have a beer with them.
Step 9: Start to love your new lifestyle
Instead of thinking of what you miss now that you gave up smoking, imagine what you gained. Avoid thinking of your cigarette as your ‘friend’, as your support for difficult moments, as an enhancement of a nice atmosphere when you go out.
Instead, think of all positive things quitting smoking has yielded so far or is going to deliver in the (near) future. Think of quitting smoking as the best thing that has ever happened to you!
For example, enjoy the fact that you and your clothes do not have that nasty smell anymore. Enjoy the fact that you now wake up in the morning without those irritating coughs. Enjoy the fact that you suffer from fewer colds. Enjoy the fact that you save money. Enjoy the fact that your skin is gradually looking healthier. Enjoy the fact that you start to become more relaxed without the need for an unhealthy cigarette to calm you down. Enjoy your new self respect to look after yourself.
Step 10: Reward yourself regularly for your progress and your success
If you reward yourself from time to time during your “withdrawal time”, you will make it yourself a lot easier to appreciate what you have reached so far and to persist!
Celebrate your success and don’t be too modest about it. Reward yourself with a holiday, a nice concert, a bunch of flowers, a new piece of furniture, dinner in a fancy restaurant or a new shirt… whatever makes you happy! Realize that you can afford to treat yourself because you didn’t spend the money on buying those filthy cigarettes.