Researchers believe one way to eliminate a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. For example, say you’d like to get out of the habit of watching too much television. At the same time, you’d like to motivate yourself to exercise every day.
To get started, identify three factors associated with the bad habit: Reminder, routine and reward. The reminder is the trigger that initiates the behavior. For example, perhaps you turn on the television every morning while eating breakfast. Breakfast, even that first cup of coffee, may be the reminder — the act that reminds you to turn on the TV.
Next, because you do this every morning, watching TV has become your routine. The reward? While that may differ for each person, it could range from catching up on the day’s news, laughing at the jokes of a morning talk show host, or having warm, nostalgic feelings while watching reruns of an old TV show.
In order to change the old habit, identify three new factors that correlate with the habit you want to develop. In the case of exercise, maybe going outside to retrieve the newspaper is your reminder. Instead of reading the paper right away, perhaps continue walking around your neighborhood block, and pick up the paper when you return. Your reward may be reading the paper upon your return, along with the knowledge that you’ve gotten some exercise for the day.
You may even consider enhancing both your reward and motivation by inviting your spouse or a neighbor to join you on this daily walk. The greater the reward, the more likely you are to continue until it becomes a habit. If this new habit breaks or even reduces the amount of time you spent on your bad habit, all the better.
Two of the key ingredients to changing (or developing) an ingrained habit are motivation and confidence. Consider how motivated you are to make the change and how confident you feel about your ability to do so. If you rate low on either of these fronts, try reducing the scale of the habit to something more achievable. For example, reduce the number of hours you watch TV each day, or simply walk half a block before retrieving the newspaper. The more success you achieve with the truncated goal, the more likely your motivation and confidence will grow to fully changing or developing a new routine.