When I attended an undercover in-service at the FBI Academy, several of my training sessions included a mock trial with cross examination by a hostile public defender. The normal human response to a verbal attack is to become angry—maybe even strike back. But that is exactly what I could not do when testifying against the target of an undercover operation.

My training helped me to develop the self-control I would need to do my job professionally, even when provoked, by staying calm and not reacting with anger in hostile situations.

Self-control separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Rather than responding to immediate impulses, self-control is the ability to act the way we want to act when we find ourselves in challenging situations.

When we’re stressed, we tend to rely on ingrained habits—whether they are helpful or harmful. To manage ourselves well, it’s important to know our habits well enough that we’re not surprised by our reactions when we hit tough times.

This is surprisingly difficult because our habits are, for the most part, invisible and hidden in our unconscious mind. For example: you get into your car and drive to work without thinking about it—you operate on autopilot. Autopilot habits allow us to live on low brain-strain.

We don’t need to pay conscious attention to the countless habits that keep us going from day to day. The brain conserves energy this way and makes us more efficient. The problem is accessing this part of the brain when we become aware that our habits are no longer working in our best interests.

Mental toughness is managing our emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set us up for success. This requires self-control as well as emotional awareness if we are to know which habits need to be strengthened, changed, or jettisoned.

Here are 5 surefire ways to break bad habits:

1. Change The Way You Think About Habits

If you want to develop good habits, it takes willpower.

In his book, “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,” social psychologist Roy Baumeister concludes that willpower is limited and depends on a continuous supply of glucose to power the brain.

For years we’ve been told that willpower is needed for sprints—but that it will not last for the entire run.

Now, this claim is being challenged by Stanford psychologists Greg Walton and Carol Dweck.

They believe that willpower can indeed be quite limited—but only if you believe it is. On the other hand, if you believe that willpower is self-renewing—then you will successfully exert more willpower.

TIP: If you believe you have the willpower to keep going, it is not a limited resource.

2. Identify The Triggers

When we are stressed, bad habits can be triggered.

If you don’t know what your triggers are, you will never succeed in changing bad habits. In moments of frustration and vulnerability, we often reach for alcohol, drugs, or food. Likewise, boredom, anxiety, and anger can trigger a bad habit that we’ve developed over the years as a way of coping with those negative emotions.

TIP: It is essential to identify the state of mind that triggers your undesirable habit.

3. Eliminate Choices

Don’t put yourself in temptation’s way.

If you love chocolate, stop buying it so it’s not in your kitchen. Make a plan ahead of time for how you will not succumb to the temptation.

If you want to control impulse spending, stop carrying a credit card with you. This will force you to rethink the purchase. If the item is over a specific amount, talk it over with someone else. Chances are good that you’ll think twice about making the purchase.

Willpower is all you need to make sure you stick with it! If you are motivated, you can make a list of the good habits you want to incorporate into your lifestyle and prioritize them.

Roy Baumeister states that “People with low willpower use it to get themselves out of a crisis. People with high willpower use it to not get themselves into a crisis in the first place.”

TIP: Once you eliminate the undesirable choices, it’s much easier to pick the desirable ones.

4. Notice The Way The Habit Operates

Simply put—pay attention!

Notice not only the factors that trigger the bad habit, but also become aware of the behavior that leads up to your habit.

For example, let’s say that you’ve had a bad day at work. You know that you act out your frustration in aggressive driving behavior on the way home. So, instead of letting a white BWM into your lane, you stomp on the gas pedal and almost cause a collision.

You experience a sense of satisfaction at having made someone else’s day miserable. It feels good at first, then it feels bad. But the next time you have a bad day at work, the habit starts all over again.

TIP: Pay attention to how you lash out when you’re frustrated or angry. Then have an honest conversation with yourself: “Is this really the kind of person you want to be?”

5. Reward Yourself

Many of us develop bad habits because they make us feel good!

Once you have the urge to indulge in a bad habit, experiment by doing something different instead. What you choose isn’t important. The point is to drill down to determine what is creating the need for the habit.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit,” suggests that once we identify a trigger, the key  to changing a habit is to link a new behavior to the old one, and the best way of reinforcing a new behavior is to reward it.

TIP: Often success is not about learning a new skill or talent; instead, it’s stopping or altering our current bad habits.

What suggestions do you have for breaking a bad habit?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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