Karina Chronicles

How to Break a Bad Habit When You’re Not a Pillar of Willpower

Erin Gibson drinks too much coffee, runs for fun and watches nerdy space dramas with her pile of furry animals while dual wielding delicious burritos.  She writes regularly at Gingero.us.  You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook, as well!

There are oodles of articles out there about breaking bad habits. I’ve heard that I should remind myself of how the habit negatively affects me, or think like someone who has already broken the habit, and employ all sorts of self control mantras and strategies among other things.

I’ve tried a lot of things and found most of them don’t work for me because I think they’re stupid and I feel stupid doing them. I know the positive, self-helpy talking to yourself business works for a lot of people. Not me.

“Self, shut up and let me get back to these cat videos.”

So here’s the method that does work for me…

Put a “Buffer” in front of your bad habit

When I was trying to quit smoking, Quit Smoking seemed like an insurmountable goal. I like smoking and all of the positive self-talk in the world wasn’t going to change that. Rewarding myself wasn’t going to help when smoking itself was a reward in my mind. Scary photos of cancer-riddled organs didn’t phase me. The goal seemed huge. Insurmountable. What could I possibly tell myself that was going to make me stop?

The answer was: I didn’t have to quit smoking. I had to quit buying cigarettes long enough to break that habit. It sounds like the same thing, but it’s not. One is a huge goal: break an addiction. The other is a simple thing that requires only a split second of willpower: “Just keep driving past the convenience store. Don’t stop.”

I used the same strategy when I decided to clean up my diet. I am not a pillar of willpower. But I didn’t have to convince myself that I didn’t love cheesecake and bagels (absurd). All I needed was a smaller, more manageable goal. Eat healthy is huge. Keep your hand out of the candy basket is easy. Don’t put the bagels in the cart is easy.

Tiny buffer goals can help you break bad habits without the need for a heaping pile of willpower. Because who has that anyway?


Disclaimer: The occasional cupcake is still necessary to maintain sanity.


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