Break Bad Habits without a Therapist

Do you ever get excited about starting an idea, only to give up on it several days later? After the initial enthusiasm dies down and you quit, do you feel worse than before you even had the idea in the first place? If you’re a dreamer like me, then keep reading. In this post, I’ll share my tips for how not to psych yourself out.

I’m always thinking about ways to start new side projects. Usually, they’re business endeavors, sometimes they’re culinary creations and other times, cultural collaborations. I’ve pictured myself in the driver’s seat, running the show and being the boss. Then, I do what everyone else does–I GTS (Google That Shit) to see if someone already took my idea.

Here’s what typically happens next. I find an entrepreneur doing something similar. And guess what? That person looks pretty darn successful. Ugh. It brings on a whole series of automatic negative thoughts, where I’m equal parts bitter, critical and cynical. Then I look a bit deeper and it looks like they’re making money, have 10,000 Twitter followers and I talk myself out of pursuing the idea.

decision-making-clipart-brain-head-silhoutte-clipart.jpg

This is my brain’s defense mechanism that stops me from breaking out of my comfort zone which holds me back from moving forward in building my dreams.

Plus, our minds are really good at resisting change, so adopting your own internal protocol to fight off your mental defense mechanisms is critical to changing patterns. Here are a few simple steps for how to break old habits:

Catch yourself in the act  

Remember how Keanu Reaves in The Matrix could see everything in super slow-mo? When we do the same things over and over again, we get better at recognizing recurring patterns. When you catch yourself doing something unproductive or negative, try saying to yourself, “there I go again”. It’s a great way to pay attention to your own reactions and calm your inner self down.

Make and test alternative hypotheses

When you were a kid, were you scared of vegetables like broccoli? I know I was. But guess what? Once I tasted it and liked it, I realized that the fear was all in my head. We do the same thing day in and day out in our lives. Does this sound familiar? I can’t work out in the morning because I need that extra hour of sleep or else I’ll be tired at work. Or how about this? I have no time to go out and date because there’s no way I’ll finish my work for my demanding boss.   

The way we move past our own fears is by making and testing alternative hypotheses. Try these on for size: If I get up an hour earlier and go to the gym, it’s possible I won’t feel tired at work. Or, I will find time in my schedule to go on one date a week through an online dating site. When you try out the alternative, you just might find that the sky didn’t fall like you thought. Plus, you now have the personal evidence and confidence to move past your fears.

Anticipate outcomes

Big life changes don’t usually happen overnight. They take time. I don’t know anyone who’s lost 50 lbs in a week or became a millionaire overnight. If you put a realistic timeline on your goal, you can then break your goals down into milestones and tasks. If you’re starting a business that will take a year to get off the ground, think about what you will do and how you will feel at 6 months and how that will be different at 12 months.  

Perhaps after six months, you’re still working two jobs but you have your first set of customers. Anticipate having little time for anything else other than your work and your side project. Prepare yourself for feeling stretched–maybe that means not being able to meet your buddies for a drink or going to the gym as much as you used to. How will you feel and what will be your game plan for combating those feelings? How will you feel when you quit your job after 12 months and your side project has become a full time job? You may be scared but at this point, you’ll also be busy soliciting customers which should empower you.

Knowing your negative habits is never easy. Sometimes we may not realize that what we’ve been doing our whole lives really holds us back. However, when we’re able to recognize the fear and test out alternative hypotheses, we get real evidence to show us that change is a lot easier than we ever thought possible.

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional mental health services. In fact, we encourage seeking out mental health providers if that is appropriate for you.