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3 Rules to Help Quit a Bad Habit


Although this article may use specific examples from breaking the habit of smoking, the basic ideas and strategies will work for breaking almost any habit you may have.

I was a smoker for 5+ years – smoking almost a pack a day – and have now quit and would like to share my strategies with others.

The Rules

Rule # 1: You must want to quit.

If you are not sure whether or not you want to quit, then you probably don’t. Many people say that they are “trying to quit” or that “I want to quit” but, in reality, if they’re saying that and still continuing with the habit, then they don’t truly want to quit. You will know when you want to quit, trust me. There were times when I thought I wanted to quit but, a couple days before I actually did quit, the urge was much, much stronger. You will know.

Rule # 2: You must be willing to battle your emotions.

For some habits, like smoking, you will also may have to battle physical ailments as well. Be prepared for this. Understand that it might not be easy but the rewards will greatly outweigh the difficulties.

If you are prepared for a tough couple weeks when you begin to quit, then it will be much easier to combat the urges when they surface. If you expect the process to be painless then you are in for a surprise and you will not last long – its probably not even worth trying if you’re not prepared for the long haul.

Rule # 3: You must understand that the urges will subside.

When you first quit your habit it will feel as if you’re missing a part of you. You may feel even depressed in the way that you would if you had lost a family member. It will appear that, for the rest of your life, you will be battling these urges. It will appear that you will never be able to live a normal life as a non-[insert habit here]. Those feelings will go away.

As you progress through the quitting process you will slowly begin to think less and less of your habit. This will begin to occur anywhere between a few days and a week after you have quit. This is also the point at which the process becomes more easy. Once you win these small battles you will be proud of yourself. I remember the first time I drove on a 10-15 minute car ride without thinking about smoking a cigarette. I used to smoke every time I got in my car, no matter where I was going. The first time the urge never came to my mind I arrived at my destination, and only then I thought about what had just happened. I had just drove 15 minutes and didn’t even think about smoking a cigarette!!! That was the first battle that I won and it felt great!

The longer you go without giving in to your habit’s urges, the less you will think about it. Eventually you will think to yourself, “Wow! I haven’t thought of [insert habit here] in days!

Abiding by those 3 rules and not giving in to your habit’s urges may not sound that difficult but trust me, it can be. Here some strategies to help you during the process:

List the Reasons Why You Want to Quit

If you really want to quit, then you obviously have reasons as to why. List them. The more familiar you become with your reasons for quitting, the more your brain will key in on those factors instead of the negative ones. There are many reasons to quit smoking and I don’t feel it necessary to list them all here. I will, however, share one of the more uncommonly talked about reasons that served as my primary reason for quitting.

Smoking is obviously physically unhealthy but I am relatively young and in good health (knock on wood), so that was not my main reason for quitting. I wanted to quit because I wanted to regain control of my mind. I believe that the human brain is very powerful and I want to do the best that I can, in my life, to utilize that power. Allowing a substance to gain that much control over my thoughts, my emotions and my daily routines was not something that I wanted to be a part of anymore. That is why I quit smoking cigarettes.

Prepare Emergency Distractions

Although the title may sound funny, it’s true. If you can occupy your brain with something else, then those urges will not be as effective. You should always have a plan of action in the case that you’re about to give in- in my case that would be smoking a cigarette. Depending on your habit, you should find other options or “substitutes” for your habit. In the case of smoking, here are some of the things that helped me:

  • Exercising
  • Tootsie pops
  • Toothpicks (especially in the car)
  • Peanuts
  • Gum
  • Any drink (water would be the healthiest of course)
  • Beef jerky
  • A cigar on the weekend

Start Something New

By quitting a habit that you have been doing for a long time you will probably have more time on your hands. Even if you don’t have more time, it will appear that you do. There will be “empty” blocks of time during the day that would normally be filled. Beginning a new project will fill some of that void. It is also very effective because you will obviously not associate your old habit with your new project. It is also a good way to see immediate positive effects of quitting your fixation.

Reward Yourself

During the quitting process you may actually feel more guilty about other aspects of your life. It is important to understand that those feelings are normal and that they will go away. A good strategy to combat those feelings is to reward yourself for what you are accomplishing. Buy yourself a new set of clothes or go out for dinner on a night that you usually wouldn’t. All of these things can help take your mind off of your habit. Slight changes in your lifestyle can also help you disassociate from your addiction- especially if they keep your mind occupied.

Quitting any habit is obviously going to take some work. By using the “3 Rules” presented above and trying some of the strategies listed, the process will go more smoothly. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but this article will hopefully provide a guide on how it can be done. If you have any questions please ask them in the comments section and I will do my best to answer them as soon as possible.

Best of luck and don’t give up!

If you have already begun the process of quitting and are reading this article for inspiration, you may also want to read my article, “6 Reasons to Look on the Bright Side” to help guide your thoughts in a positive direction.

Anson Alexander

I am an author, digital educator and content marketer. I record, edit, and publish content for AnsonAlex.com, provide technical and business services to clients and am an avid self-learner. I have also authored several digital marketing and business courses for LinkedIn Learning (previously Lynda.com).

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