by Leo Babauta
Quitting an old habit or forming a new habit is fairly simple when it comes to the steps to doing it: find your trigger and do a new habit at that trigger over and over. Remind yourself to do it. Make it rewarding.
The simplicity is deceptive, though: there are some physical urges and even more mental habits that keep us stuck in our old patterns.
The physical urges are not so hard: if you stay away from an old habit (like cigarettes) for a week, the urges die down. It’s the mental habits that trip us up. We have a way of seeing ourselves that includes our old habits (like smoking, eating a certain way, etc.) and so we form a bunch of mental habits that keep us stuck in that version of ourselves.
Here’s a method that will change everything for you: become your new habit.
Let’s take a concrete example:
- You want to quit smoking (or quit scrolling on your phone, etc).
- It’s hard becaus when you feel stress, you want to smoke. It’s your coping mechanism. This is how you see yourself.
- Instead, you tell yourself: “I’m a person who meditates or goes for a walk when I’m stressed.” You visualize this new version of yourself, and how healthy and alive they’ll feel.
- When you get stressed and have an urge to smoke, simply remind yourself of who you are now. You deal with stress by meditating or going for a walk.
- Become that person by meditating and going for walks whenever you’re stressed. Your mental image of yourself will change, and smoking won’t even be an option.
This is how it worked for me with smoking — I stopped seeing myself as a smoker, and for the last 16 years I haven’t even considered smoking when I’ve gotten stressed.
The same thing happened when I went vegetarian and then vegan: the idea of eating meat or other animal products isn’t even appealing to me anymore, because it’s not who I am. I did this over and over: I see myself as someone who is active, who eats whole plant foods, who meditates, who is a loving father and husband, who creates meaningful things.
Change your self-image. Obliterate your old ideas. Become the new version of yourself.
Clinging to Old Mental Patterns
The mental patterns that keep us stuck in old habits are tied to our old image of ourselves.
- I’m stressed so it’s OK to smoke this one time, I’ll quit later.
- I have visitors so it’s OK to eat this junk, it’s a special occasion.
- This writing is not that important right now, I can do it tomorrow, I have urgent things to deal with.
- This is all their fault, they are making my life frustrating.
- I’ll meditate in a little while, I’m going to scroll on my phone for a bit first.
- I haven’t done the habit in a few days, I don’t want to think about it right now.
Nothing is wrong with any of these mental patterns. But we can notice that they’ll keep us stuck in the old way of doing things.
If we want to let go of them, we can obliterate our old image of ourselves. And create a new one.
Create a New Version of Yourself
If you believe you are someone who exercises every day, then being sedentary for days in a row is not really an option. You get up and move.
If you believe that you eat compassionately, then meat isn’t an option. You eat plants.
If you believe that you are kind, then yelling at your kids isn’t an option. You give them love.
What’s the new version of yourself you’d like to become?
Visualize that new version of you. Feel what it would feel like. It’s an act of creativity, an act of imagination.
Create that new version of yourself. How do they feel, how do they act, what do they do when they are stressed, how do they react to difficult situations?
Now become that person. Become the new being you conjured up.