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How to Break Bad Habits

Nearly all people on earth have a habit or two they wish they could do away with. What’s yours? Maybe you crack your knuckles so loud you could set off car alarms. Perhaps you’re twenty pounds overweight and can’t seem to lay off the ice cream before bedtime. It could be that you giggle when nervous, or talk excessively about yourself, or shop till you drop, or show up late for everything.

If bad habits are a source of irritation and annoyance for ourselves, it’s highly likely they’ll have the same effect on a potential partner. What can you do if you have a habit you think may hinder your chances at true love?

In her book Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight, author Karen Linamen insists that breaking old habits and embracing new ones may not be as difficult as you think. To take steps forward, consider these ideas:

1. Disrupt a well-worn rut.
It doesn’t take much for your brain to fall back into the grooves of a well-established habit. Look for “cues” in your environment that direct your brain onto a path of a bad habit. When you identify a cue, change your environment. Either remove the cue or make it hard for your brain to follow through. Are you a junk-food junkie? Empty your pantry of tempting foods. Watch too much TV? Turn your television so it faces the wall. Smoking habit? Give your cigarettes to your neighbor so you have to walk across the street to get a smoke. Disrupting an old pattern can make it harder for your brain to go on autopilot.

2. Build on small successes.
A single healthy change can, like a stone tossed into a pond, create ripples of progress throughout your entire life. For example, did you know that simply sleeping ninety minutes more each night—cranking up your shuteye from six and a half hours to eight—can not only improve your attitude, but also decrease your appetite and lower your chances of suffering a heart attack? The point is that success in one area creates momentum that spurs change in other areas. Identify one small transformation in your life that could lead to more positive changes.

3. Enlist the help of cheerleaders.
Identify a few friends or family members who are among your faithful encouragers and tell them of your intentions. Skip the Eeyores who will pull you down with their pessimism, and instead lean on the optimistic, I-believe-in-you people in your life. Let their encouragement and enthusiasm inspire you to push ahead toward your goal.

4. Get your ducks in the row.
When learning a new habit, make it as easy and natural as possible. One way to do this is to get everything ready in advance. Are you starting a new routine of going to the gym every morning? Gather everything you need—shoes, clothes, towel, car keys, water bottle, iPod—the night before so that when morning arrives you’re ready to go. Do you want to develop the habit of paying each bill the same day it arrives in your mailbox? Stock your desk with supplies (stamps, envelopes, pens) ahead of time so you know exactly where to find everything you need when you need them.

5. Ask “what?” not “why?”
If you are procrastinating on something, don’t ask yourself, Why am I putting this off? That question appeals to your intellect, and your intellect isn’t the problem. Your intellect knows you need to be doing this project and that there’s no good reason for putting it off. Instead, ask yourself, What emotion do I feel when I think about tackling this project? When you can answer this question honestly, you’re zeroing in on the root reason for staying stuck.

6. Summon up your spiritual resources.
If you are someone who believes in God’s ability to intervene in your life and supply power overcome problems, tap into that source of strength with all your passion. If you utilize meditation and contemplation as a way to focus your mind and dispel distractions, regularly employ these practices. Perhaps you are part of a church or faith-based group that can rally around you—if so, draw upon the inspiration of people who share your beliefs.

If you have a habit that’s holding you back and hindering your love life, get serious about overcoming it once and for all. Start with these suggestions and create a plan that will lead to progress.

1. Karen Linamen, Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight (Colorado Springs, Colo.: WaterBrook Press, 2008), p. 10.