I’m Finally Quitting Trying to Quit My Bad Habits

In my dream life, I quit my bad habits. All of them. In this fantasy realm, I am a calmer, extraordinarily disciplined, and intensely focused person. I am using the information I consume, not just passively consuming more of it. In reality, though, things are far from perfect.

As far as I remember, I was 25 at the time. The age I finally quit drinking and smoking.

Several years later, I decided to quit social media as well. Along with that, I also stopped being so overly obsessed with owning fancy clothes. It turns out that a person can look and feel good if he spends a lot less on shirts and sneakers.

We can all properly label the bad habits that tend to corrupt our lives. The tendency to smoke when you’re depressed. The stack of chips and ice cream for the moments of pure boredom.

And while there is part of the brain that can correctly conclude that these actions are not leading to anything sound in the future. These thoughts are quickly replaced by another set of inner voices stating, “but life’s just better with these.”

I wish I could say that leaving alcohol, smoking, social media, and my ambition to eliminate all my bad habits have made my time on Earth more like heaven.

Well, sure, I can take a breath without this causing a rib-breaking cough. And yes, I use my time to do stuff, instead of watching other people doing stuff. But trying to leave all of my bad habits created something unexpected. A void that I filled with other nasty behavior.

What Are The Benefits of Quitting Bad Habits?

Quitting a bad habit surely comes with a lot of benefits. Yet the self-help industry fails to address the main gain from leaving a toxic routine.

Let me explain…

When I quit smoking and drinking, the immediately noticeable benefits were things like: breathing normally, not being constantly intoxicated, and having more stamina.

After that, I noticed other gains. For example, I now had more cash. Also, since I was no longer thinking about the next party, this made me more curious to indulge in learning new topics. Which, in turn, allowed me to excel in my day job and also gave me time to improve my writing skills.

But the real benefits of giving up a bad habit comes from something else.

When you leave one bad habit, and when your day-to-day existence gets better as a result of this, you start to see what other areas of your life need improving. It’s like you suddenly sober up, and you realize how totally messed up your life is.

Yet, telling someone the benefits of leaving a harmful habit is never what motivates the person to start taking active steps towards getting rid of life-poisoning activities.

After all, regardless of how intoxicated you are, if you are barely able to pay your bills, regularly using harmful substances, or neglecting your health. You probably already know that these behaviors aren’t contributing to your progress in the world.

Sadly, knowing what are our bad habits is not enough to leave them.

Why It Is So Hard To Break Bad Habits?

Contrary to how we label repetitive actions that are not good for us in the future – i.e., bad habits – these behavior patterns are rarely perceived as negative. They feel good. In fact, they are usually the only thing that brings joy to our otherwise dull existence.

We kind of already know this, we simply don’t care to admit it.

When I was visiting clubs 5 days per week, I surely wasn’t labeling my behavior as bad. In fact, I thought that it was quite normal. Not only because everyone around me was doing it, but also because I loved everything related to the activity of visiting bars: planning the evening, socializing, meeting new people, the gathering on the following day when we discuss how many bottles we’ve ordered, what my friend said to this girl, what she responded, etc.

Drinking and smoking are, yes, doing all sorts of bad things to your body, mind, and finances. But these things are also heavily practiced because they are giving you something.

What drinking and smoking gave me, were things like: A chance to meet people; A chance to loosen up and express myself; A chance to meet a life partner; An opportunity to socialize and be part of a group; Relief from my otherwise monotonous and uninteresting life.

Presented this way, the reason it was hard for me to leave my bad habits wasn’t because I needed alcohol to function properly. The reason was more because I was using alcohol as a device to cope with stress, socialize, and instill meaning in my life.

Quitting drinking wasn’t seen as, “Oh, my health will improve. I will have more money, and I will finally have enough strength to go to the gym.” No, I was seeing it as follows: “Oh, if I quit drinking, what will happen to my social life? How will others perceive me? What will I do every night if I don’t go out?”

Observed from this perspective, how do you feel about giving up on your bad habits?

You don’t want to do it, right? 

It feels like you lose more than you win.

To cleanse a bad behavior, we need more than just a reason to quit. We need to find substitute habits before we abolish the toxic ways of living.

What Is Your Most Unhealthy Habit?

For me, drinking and smoking were the two things that heavily impacted my health.

And while you might think that I’d fantasize about a life without these two, I didn’t.

The upsides gained from drinking and smoking were far greater than the downsides.

Sure, I’d occasionally get so sick that I couldn’t take a breath. Or, I’d wake up in my bed without a slight idea of how I transported my drunk ass back home. But I didn’t see these things as downsides. Rather, I saw them as obstacles that I needed to overcome to resume smoking and drinking.

My theory is that the thing that is making your life miserable is also, in a strange way, making your life better.

Drowning in alcohol is stupid in terms of your health. But if you are in a strained relationship, if you can’t figure out your place in the world, and if the only way you feel a sense of aliveness is by devouring a whole table of shots. Well, then, drinking doesn’t look so stupid. In fact, it looks like the right thing to do. The best way to cope with the real world – by intoxicating yourself to such a degree that you transport yourself above all of your problems.

Personally, drinking gave me a couple of important things. From a young age, I struggled with two things: 1) making friends, and 2) expressing my true feelings.

When I found alcohol, or alcohol found me, this also came with a whole group of people who then became my close friends. Additionally, after half a bottle, I was finally able to express my true feelings.

Sadly, the more I practiced this bad habit, the more it sucked me in.

I created an entire life around the personality of a drinker. A party person. And hell, I was pretty good at it.

In the realm of drinking, you are praised for things that are basically destroying your health. The more you drink, the more others perceive you as this phenomenon. And the more others look at you in awe for your ability to consume large quantities of liquor, the more you want to continue doing it to not lose your spot in this absurd competition of life-destroying behavior.

Based on the above, the best way to stop a bad habit has nothing to do with realizing how a certain behavior is negatively affecting you. We need to look at the other way around. More precisely, we need to look at how these bad behaviors are positively impacting you. List the things our bad habits give us. Then, figure out how they make us feel.

Smoking and drinking were costing me money, making me ill, and messing up my love life. But in return, these two gave me a relief from stress, a chance to slow down and relax, an opportunity to socialize, and, last but not least, smoking and drinking are still perceived as the benchmark of coolness.

How Do You Replace Bad Habits With Good Ones?

Well, how do you replace bad habits with good ones?

We now know that bad habits are rarely perceived as bad. As I suggested above, it’s the opposite.

The rational part of the brain knows that certain behaviors are wrecking up your life. Yet, the emotional part of the brain creates subtle narratives to rationalize your awful traits.

“Sure, I get wasted every weekend, but what else should I do? Read books? Life is too short to imprison myself in a library. We only live once. I want to have fun and hang with my people!”

Presented this way, the steps to replace bad habits with good ones are two:

  1. Change the narratives in your head about your behaviors.
  2. Find alternative activities that offer similar gains.

Let’s look at these two one by one:

1. Change Your Narratives

One thing I learned the hard way is that until you change your perception about a certain activity, you have zero chance to remove this activity from your life.

For years, I was trying to quit smoking. But that’s the only thing I was doing. I was trying to quit.

I knew that smoking was bad for me, but I also loved everything related to smoking.

When I attempted quitting, I usually approached this as follows: “Instead of smoking one pack a day, I will smoke only on special occasions.” Suddenly, there were a bunch of special occasions happening in the upcoming week. In my mind, I still perceived myself as a smoker.

The same thing happened with alcohol. I was saying I wanted to quit, but the reality was that I felt embarrassed about my last drunken night out. “Oh, man. I got shit drunk last night. What happened? I need to stop drinking!”

In reality, I didn’t want to quit. I wanted to feel good for a moment by saying that I wouldn’t drink anymore. But once a couple of days passed after the crazy evening, I was back to my old ways. “Oh yeah, last week I got really drunk. But this week, I’ll make sure to regulate how many drinks I have. I’ll be fine. I don’t need to stop drinking.”

The main problem was that I associated drinking and smoking with the ultimate joy in my life.

I was living to go out and have fun. That was the highlight of my week: To go out with my friends and get hammered.

As you can imagine, that wasn’t saying anything positive about the rest of my life. If I lived for one single event during the weekend, what was happening with the rest of the week? With the rest of my life, even?

Things started to change when this hit me: “Is this it? Is this the best I can do? Go out every weekend and get wasted? Poison my lungs with nicotine? How many times do I have to hear from people around me that alcohol is bad for me before I finally stop?”

As these thoughts started to take shape, I realized that I needed to find replacement activities.

Based on my previous failed attempts, I knew that I couldn’t simply abandon a bad habit. I needed to find something else as a replacement. Otherwise, I will relapse and fall back to my old bad habits.

2. Finding Alternative Activities

What are the main benefits of your bad habits?

The main things I got from drinking and smoking were these:

  • Quick relief from stress.
  • Socializing. 
  • Opportunity to express myself. 
  • A chance to forget about my problems. 
  • Being part of a group.

Your answers will be different. And that’s absolutely normal.

The point is to find a reasonable way to get similar gains that aren’t destroying your life.

Just to be clear, my approach back then wasn’t at all so strategic. I was simply acting on instinct. What I share with you today is what I wish I knew back then.

Back to the path of replacing bad habits with good ones…

So, what type of activities did I find to replace my bad habits?

Three main things: 

Commonly, people start websites with one main goal in mind: to make money. Well, not that I wasn’t having the same thoughts. But the side effects of writing gave me something I originally didn’t expect: the opportunity to express myself. The chance to say what I think and feel.

As for reading and hiking… Reading books and taking long walks in nature didn’t only unlock a whole landscape of ideas. But it also allowed me to appreciate a slower and calmer life.

At some point, I didn’t want to spend the night on a bar stool throwing money for liquor, not only because I finally realized how this activity was ruining my life. But also because I was now more excited about my writing session the next morning.

The highlight of my day changed from getting hammered to getting my ass on a chair and writing about an interesting topic.

It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies.

Truthfully, I wanted to return to my previous habits so many times initially. There were simply too many triggers that were trying to pull me back. Somehow, I persisted. But it was far from easy. What I think kept me away from my bad habits was the following idea: “I can do better.”

I wasn’t particularly good at writing at first. No, scratch that. I totally sucked. But I believed in myself and my ability to get better.

I wanted to say yes to yet another invite that sounded exciting and was going to help me forget about all of my problems. But I focused more on this: “How will I feel the next day if I go out tonight?” The answer wasn’t particularly exciting.

The better I became at delaying gratification, the more I was able to instill the mindset that I could do something better with my time. Something more productive.

What Should You Do If You Can’t Quit All of Your Bad Habits?

It should be all good, right?

After all, I survived an alcohol addiction.

Not entirely.

As I hinted at the beginning of the article, quitting most of my bad habits led to another set of habits.

Most of them are good, but a handful of them are not so much – even though they sound great.

One side effect of writing about self-improvement, habits, productivity, and a bunch of other things is how you start to perceive your desired life trajectory.

At some point, I truly believed that the only way I should move was up.

While there is nothing inherently bad about this concept, every time things get down – as they always do – it hurts.

Ii was emotionally catastrophizing for me. I perceived myself as a failure if I didn’t constantly progress in my life.

This led to the following:

Every time there was a dip in my false perception about ever-evolving ascend, I was getting really annoyed. No, more than annoyed. I got really pissed off.

Sometimes the problem has nothing to do with me. For example, if my car broke down, resulting in an unplanned expense, I’ll get furious because I’ll spend more money than what I originally expected.

Other times I am the problem. Instead of refraining from eating a dessert, I will give into temptation. Or, instead of publishing two articles per week for my site, I’ll publish only one because I’ll get distracted during my writing sessions.

Or, in other words, I put so much emphasis on eradicating all possible bad habits from my life that when the inevitable happens – I do something that isn’t particularly productive – I get really mad at myself.

This self-imposed pressure to be my “best version” not only weighed heavily on my own psyche, but also spilled over onto those closest to me, tarnishing the harmony of our relationships.

Yeah, I am a real piece of work. A walking contradiction. I am full of grand ambitions, but unable to properly handle the failures along the way due to my insecurities.

One thing I learned after reading so many books, attending various seminars, and basically reflecting on my failures is this… Relentlessly pursing perfection, 100% productivity, and quitting all of your bad habits is not only nearly impossible, but it can even cause harm.

Sure, there are a lot of self-destructive behaviors we should definitely try to cleanse – e.g., smoking, drinking, and taking drugs. Yet, growth and progress come not from eradicating every flaw, but from understanding and mitigating their effects.

Some Closing Thoughts

Previously, I was astounded by the inability of people to apply the content freely circling around the online space.

There are literally millions of articles written on the topic of leaving bad habits, becoming 1% better daily, being your best self, reaching ultimate happiness, etc.

Yet, how many people do you know who are still drowning in the ocean of failure?

A lot, right?

In fact, you probably have your own flaws that you know you have to cleanse, but you somehow can’t even though you’ve read the latest books by the now-trending gurus.

What can you do?

Well, for the habits that you know are hurting you, even though they don’t feel like that at the moment, my suggestion will be to keep trying to leave them. Don’t stop trying until smoking, or eating a whole cake all by yourself, is no longer perceived as something positive, but as something negative.

For the habits that are still undesirable, but not that harmful. Sure, you can keep attempting to cleanse them, but probably don’t put so much pressure on yourself when you fail.

I’ve recently gave up on the idea of being bad-habit-free. I mean, cleansing all of my unhealthy behaviors surely sounds sexy. I imagine that a lot of folks will cheer me on if I craft a social media post where I communicate how “perfect I am”. But then I remember that quitting a bad habit is not a one-off event. Personally, I need to daily convince myself that I shouldn’t consume junk food and that I should spend less time browsing the endless online catalog. 

In other words, we can say that you never quit a malicious habit, you simply become better at overcoming instant gratifications.

By now, I don’t feel tempted to get back to smoking and drinking. I believe I’ve successfully ditched these nasty behaviors. But I do feel tempted to eat something with sugar in it. And I do want to lie down on my sofa and do nothing – i.e., procrastinate – when I should be writing instead. 

However, when I break my laws and enter the chocolate-chip wonderland, where each bite is a delightful escapade into a realm of sugary bliss. I try not to be so hard on myself. 

Obviously, this sugar bomb is surely not contributing to my desired weight, but then I remember that despite this temporary setback, I’ve still not given up. I’m still doing my best to advance, even when there are dips during the journey.

“It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.” Stephen R. Covey

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