Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How to Break Bad Habits

I'm reading a helpful little book by Darren Hardy called The Compound Effect with the subtitle: "Jumpstart your income, your life, your success." What I like most about this book is that it addresses bad habits and how to overcome them using a variety of methods that seem to make sense.

I have a couple of bad habits at the moment: too much caffeine and too much time on devices that are giving me text neck. The Compound Effect, according to the book, is the principle of reaping huge rewards from a series of small, smart choices. The author has you write down every time you engage in one of your bad habits and very slowly, work towards changing them.

For example, today, I stayed off my electronic devices for most of the morning but obviously not all morning as here I am blogging about my bad habit of using the computer etc. Anyway, I am also going to try substituting my afternoon caffeine fix (which sadly, is very little, but I am supposed to have none as I have heart problems) with some de-caf green tea. Yuck. Anyway, I'll see how this works out. The book does seem to be a good one, and if nothing else, is so cheerful and positive that it is worth the price for that alone.

Do you have any bad habits that you have been able to break through small, smart choices?



Blogger jabrwok said...

I broke my afternoon habit of Pop-Tarts and Mountain Dew by going on a meal plan that included an afternoon meal of real food. The primary objective was to lose weight (which I've done), but the afternoon meal had the added benefit of eliminating the afternoon sugar-crash that always came 2-3 hours after lunch.

11:10 AM, October 19, 2011  
Blogger HMT said...

I hope the book addresses actually identifying a "bad habit". What is that exactly?

I have a beer (or two...) most nights. Is that a bad habit? Many people would say yes.

I play a couple of hours of video games most nights. Is that a bad habit? Many people my age would say YES! What if instead I'd said "I watch a couple of hours of TV most nights"? Most of those same people would probably change their answer.

I'd rather have a goal and identify those things I'm doing that are blocking that goal.

Beers? Not a bad habit. My health is good and the number of times I get "drunk" per year is countable on one hand. It doesn't prevent me from finishing my projects.

Video Games. Not a bad habit. IMO it's less brain numbing than watching TV. Occasionally I'll play when I should be working on a personal project. Then I need to work on metering time.

Procrastination. Bad habit. A real bad one. I'm always working on that one. Major barrier to project completion.

Smoking. A bad habit. Not a project blocker but a health risk. I addressed it years ago.

Caffeine. Not a bad habit. But for me it's not an identified health risk. If my doctor identified it as a serious health risk (i.e. heart condition), I'd have to reassess

2:04 PM, October 19, 2011  
Blogger Kevin said...

What?? NO such thing as too much caffiene! You don't need to sleep, plenty of time to sleep when you're dead!


2:39 PM, October 19, 2011  
Blogger Kim said...

Not only do I not want to lose my bad habits... I want to revel in them.

Yeah, one or two of them might kill me in the end, but what the hell. I'm an old fart anyway.

I just want to stay alive long enough to vote against Obama next year. I suspect I'm not alone in this.

2:41 PM, October 19, 2011  
Blogger HMT said...

I'm with you Kim. When I meet someone with no apparent bad habits my brain automatically tags them with "Potential serial killer"

3:47 PM, October 19, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frankly, I'm envious that Helen can read book after book after book. I have to work.

I guess the "Patriarchy" isn't too bad for her.

4:44 PM, October 19, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

---Not only do I not want to lose my bad habits... I want to revel in them.---


Whatever that's supposed to mean. Some kind of tough-guy thing, I guess.

I would like to get rid of bad habits that would kill me.

4:45 PM, October 19, 2011  
Blogger Zorro said...

Best material I have ever read on habits was the chapter in that book William James wrote when he was a professor at Harvard. It used to be mandatory reading for all Harvard students, and remains the most powerful argument on development of good habits as a young person.

6:05 PM, October 19, 2011  
Blogger DenverBound said...

Thank you Dr., I appreciate the suggestion. I continue to try to change a few of my bad habits, perhaps this will enhance my efforts.

9:18 PM, October 20, 2011  
Blogger Bill White said...

You probably already know this, but be careful with decaf - sometimes it's not as decaf as you might think, and it's possible to grow more sensitive to caffeine over time. I switched to decaf coffee a couple of years ago, and now even that is making my heart jump around.

9:37 PM, October 20, 2011  
Blogger dwbosch said...

The worst habits are usually somebody else's.

9:41 PM, October 20, 2011  
Blogger aaa said...

Hi Helen,

I have heart issues too, and also am not supposed to drink caffeine. I found a terrific low caffeine tea - Prince of Wales - that's awesome. It took a long time, but I found a terrific low caffeine decaf coffee from a local roaster. As you must know, most decaf coffees (like Starbucks) have a ton of caffeine. Any way, keep trying until you find a good substitute. They're out there.

9:43 PM, October 20, 2011  
Blogger Mary W said...

I modified my caffeine addiction. I started brewing tea instead of coffee at night. Using loose leaf tea and brewing only one cup at a time, gradually I started drinking less. After a few months, tea just tasted better so I started brewing a cup in the morning. Now, I drink just 1 cup a day and no coffee at all. I still drink a tea with caffeine but no longer just drink coffee all day.

10:32 PM, October 20, 2011  
Blogger Kowboy said...

Dr. Helen:

I have a bad habit of developing crushes on smart attractive women close to my own age. It's between you and Ms. Mitzelfeld, my English professor. What can I do?


10:49 PM, October 20, 2011  
Blogger Cynthia Yockey said...

Dr. Helen, try Raja's Cup from as a coffee substitute. It tastes like coffee and is very satisfying.

11:15 PM, October 20, 2011  
Blogger Teresa said...

I recently found Mighty Leaf tea (you can buy it from Amazon). Here is a link to their herbal variety pack it has 5 different types.

I love love love the ginger twist. You may find one in this set that you love too and could substitute for the afternoon caffeine. Happy Drinking!

11:59 PM, October 20, 2011  
Blogger Jacob said...

I have a heart problem, myself. While I've been able to reduce most of the habits I had before (caffeine wasn't one of them), I've had the most trouble reducing my salt intake. Which is bad, since it causes me to retain fluid.

It's not easy breaking lifetime habits.

12:10 AM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger Minicapt said...

Try "rooibos" tea?


12:51 AM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger Douglas said...

Some of the bad habits I've broken (not all permanently) include, biting my finger and toenails, yes toenails, smoking, drinking caffeine, cussing, that's all I can think of right now.

I did it most times by overabundance. I used to bite my nails, yes, including toes, down to the quick if I could get a good grip on the nail. I stopped biting my toenails cuz I got old, and wasn't as flexible, but my fingernails I did by buying emory boards, and flat sanding my nails down before I could bite them. Did that for about a month or two, and since I went 2 months without having any nails to bite, I didn't bite them, and after two months, I didn't feel the urge.

Caffeine, I drank about 3 or 4 pots of coffee a day, no really, and I always had a sour stomach, so instead instead I started eating candy for energy rather than drinking coffee. Now, I drink maybe one caffeinated drink a month on average, and it affects me almost like booze.

Smoking was different, cuz it's an often unconscious act, a lot of people don't REALIZE that they just lit a second cigarette while the first is still burning. So, the best method I found was to keep a "smoking log" Everytime, before I lit a cigarette, I would grab my cigarette diary and write down the date and day and time that I lit it. That was a conscious effort that had to be maintained. At the end of each pay, you had to write down how long it took for you to smoke a pack of cigarettes.

Cussing, which I still do, but less so, I did a vocal replacement, since that is how most fowel language is used, if used often, I would find a word that could replace it. I said the F word so much, that I started calling it Comma, as a joke to point out how casually I used it, and finaly I rarely used it. Other words I used biological or scientific words to replace them, and when put into that context I stopped using those words so much.

But sometimes you just have to let loose, so I still cuss, but it's more focused.

1:49 AM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger Chris said...

Dr.Helen: Found out after a diabetes diagnosis that caffeine can mess with your blood sugar. I'd been drinking green tea anyway, up the amount.

Suggest that if you don't want to go the "artisinal" route (and nothing against the suggestions, I'm just on a fixed income), try Constant Comment's Green Tea w/mint. And Truvia as a sugar substitute.

And thanks for the suggestions about bad habits. Trying to break my addiction to cigarettes. Very hard.

2:44 AM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger br549 said...

Cigarettes. Grrrr! They have me by the short and curlies. I do a single pot of coffee a day, between about 4:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. - early to bed early to rise type. There is something about a sunrise.

I think the hardest thing for me to break is going to be my attitude toward those who expect more out of others than they do of themselves. Is it only me who seems to be surrounded by those type people?

6:08 AM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger M said...

Smoking is a habit I have been trying to break for years. Anyone tried hypnosis to quit smoking with success?

6:29 AM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger Fowl Ideas said...

Avoid the habit of believing anything you read in a self help book.

9:04 AM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger Norcross2020 said...

Try Leo Babuta's blog at Leo focuses on simplifying your life and starting positive habits. Very inspirational and not too difficult.

9:11 AM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger wRitErsbLock said...

I gave up my addiction to nose spray after reading an article about how horrible it was to my nasal passages. I hadn't even realized I was addicted before that article.

Then, in an agonizing month of withdrawal, I gave up lip balm. What a nightmare that was! I'm not sure it was worth the effort. But I'm one of those who sets a goal and sticks to it. See also: ran a marathon.

10:13 AM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger Jay Manifold said...

Weighing myself first thing in the morning and writing the number down has provided a remarkable amount of motivation toward burning more calories and eating fewer. I've been dropping close to a pound a week for 5 months.

11:00 AM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger Jean said...

Habits are compelling. When my son was young, I advised him to say "no" to doing something wrong, one time, then another, then another and build "integrity". Maybe Obama's mom should have done such because right now, we have a person in the highest office of the United States who has said "yes" to evil over and over, and thus, a "hollow" man is in a position he doesn't deserve! A Big Pile of no integrity for doing what is right!

11:09 AM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger Greg Dougherty said...

Have you read "Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength" by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney? Tierney is the NY Times Science guy, and he's just about always a worthwhile read. Glenn had a link to an excerpt that Tierney posted in the Times back in the middle of August. It was good enough that I bought the book, and I'm very happy with having done so. The latest research on how we make decisions is QUITE fascinating.

11:15 AM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger Barbara Dillon Hillas said...

Dr. Helen,

I have followed you for a long time, and am breaking my habit of not commenting!

Like ZorroPrimo, I agree that William James nails it right in the head. Here is something that ought to be read by all: Talks to Teachers - The Laws of Habit (

4:32 PM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger Linda at said...

I've never broken a single habit in my life. I no longer expect to stop doing these "bad habits," but instead to just try manage them more effectively.

This mindset takes a lot of the stress off, which helps a stress monkey like me. I no longer feel guilty for indulging every now and again.

This book sounds like pretty much the same technique. Too bad I'm too lazy to write a book.


4:42 PM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger Eric said...

As W.C. Fields used to say, "Don't say you can't swear off drinking. It's easy; I've done it a thousand times!"

My experience is that it takes about as long to form a habit as to break one: three weeks. I can do (or refrain from doing) almost anything for three weeks. After that, it becomes much easier to maintain.

Committing to forever is impossible for me, and virtually guarantees eventual failure. But the three weeks solution is workable, and temporary can easily lead to something resembling permanence or quasi-permanence.

Also, whether in quitting bad or establishing good new habits, relapse should not be seen as failure, but as an opportunity to learn.

I don't mean to preach, but only to share what has worked for me.

8:06 PM, October 21, 2011  
Blogger Zorro said...

Helen: The link to Amazon is for an out-of-print edition that sells for over $100. There is a hardcover available for $12 on another Amazon page (see other available editions and click hardcover).

Just a thought. I'm going to buy the book and want to break my bad economics habit.

8:23 PM, October 21, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:28 AM, October 22, 2011  
Blogger Helen Smith said...


Thanks, I changed the link to the hardcover.


Yes, I have read the Willpower book. It's quite good also.


2:28 PM, October 22, 2011  
Blogger TMink said...

I stop drinking coffee when I take my ADD speed. Well, I stop for the day! When I do not take the ADD meds, I drink about 3 or 4 cups.

To lose weight I have been snacking after dinner only two nights a week when I used to do it more. That has been helping as some of my extra weight has been coming off slow and steady for the last 10 weeks since I started. The funny thing is that I look forward to Friday and Saturday nights during the week when I am forgoing a snack and then half the time forget to get one on Friday night because I am out of the habit.

I want to lost quite a bit of weight, and I am picking changes like this and riding them till the plateau and then picking something else. It would be nice if it worked!


2:21 PM, October 24, 2011  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

as a hypnotherapist i am asked how successful my treatments are, and i say that many of my clients stop altogether (80%) through my seminars or personal sessions.

of the remaining 20% about 80% of those return for one reason or another for further sessions and are able to stop or reduced their intake.

4-5% aren't able to quit ever as there is a part of their brain that deals with aggression and anxiety that also gets stimulated by the cigarettes, and they only see temporary relief from hypnosis.

in my work i deal with all sorts of other behaviours that have become habituated by people that are commonly known as phobias or obsessions or fears.

the good doctor may disagree, but i have had great success helping people become unafraid of spiders, snakes etc. i have helped people greatly reduce or stop certain medications that doctors were liberally prescribing my clients for anxiety, depression and all sorts of other mythological beasts such as add...though i am quick to point out that i can neither claim or promise to do these things upfront, as the m.d. mafia is listening at all times.

4:03 PM, October 24, 2011  

Post a Comment

<< Home