By Leo Babauta
Choosing a bad habit for our Quit a Bad Habit module might be a bit difficult for some of you … so I’d like to give you some guidance as we prepare to get started.
For some of you, the choice is an obvious one: you want to quit smoking, or finally stop biting your nails. For others, there are too many choices, or you’re not sure what your best choices might be.
Or maybe you’re worried because you’ve failed at quitting the same habit multiple times.
Before I give you any guidance, you should answer one question: how good are you at habits?
Depending on how you’ve done with habits, you’ll be at one of three levels:
- Level 1: You haven’t successfully formed a lot of new habits in the last year or two, have had trouble quitting bad habits, or have failed at many habit change attempts in the past.
- Level 2: You’ve successfully formed new (good) habits more than once, perhaps 3-4 times, in the last year or so. You’ve had mixed success before that, but you’re definitely getting the hang of habit change.
- Level 3: You’re pretty good at habits â€” perhaps you’ve formed multiple good ones, and even quit a bad habit or two. Maybe you’ve quit a bunch of bad habits, like smoking and junk food and procrastination. You’re ready for a new challenge.
Please be aware that quitting bad habits (like smoking and nail biting) is harder than starting a new one (like writing or meditating), because the old habit is ingrained and we can have addictions to break in some cases. This is an advanced skill, so it’s important that you be honest about your habit abilities, and choose the right level for you.
If there’s any uncertainty, choose a lower level rather than a higher one, so you don’t bite off more than you can chew and stack the odds against yourself. It’s much, much better to choose an easier habit and succeed than choose a more challenging habit and fail.
OK, we’re ready to pick a habit based on your level!
Level 1 Habits
These are the most basic habits, but don’t underestimate them â€” they’re still hard. They’re just not as complicated.
Level 1 habits only occur once a day, maybe twice, or are pretty predictable. Also, ideally, they’re physical habits. And not super addictive.
Here are some examples:
- Checking Reddit when you first start work each day.
- Snacking on junk food in the mid-afternoon
- Coffee in the morning
- Watching TV at night
- Beer every evening
- Staying up late
These are not easy, but they’re more predictable than ones in Level 2 and 3, and usually less addictive â€” some of them have addictive properties, like beer, coffee and junk food, but they’re not as hard as cigarettes in my opinion.
I highly recommend most people choose something from this category.
Level 2 Habits
This level is less predictable, but still a physical habit. They can be more addictive too, though not necessarily. The unpredictability of these habits and the frequency that they occur can make this a more difficult habit change, because you have to be more aware of your urges and be constantly vigilant.
- Biting nails
- Constantly checking your phone
- Online (or real-world) shopping
- Drinking soda
- Binge drinking
- Fast food
- Watching too much porn
- Video games
- Cracking knuckles
- Eating candy
- Eating when you’re not hungry
These habit changes require a higher skill level, because you need to not only be more aware, but willing to deal with messing up if you forget. This is something most people are not good at â€” most of us tend to give up on a habit change if there’s failure.
Level 3 Habits
I only recommend these to people who have done some of the Level 1 and 2 habit changes successfully. They’re more difficult because most of them are mental habits, or they’re very addictive. Mental habits are harder to break because you can’t see them, which means you have to be aware of your own thinking a lot of the time. They’re not impossible to change, but you won’t be able to change them without some failure.
- Negative self-talk
- Snapping at other people with impatience
- Criticizing other people
- Online distractions
- Painkiller and sedative addiction
Please note that this last one, or any real drug addiction, is beyond the scope of this course. I just wanted to list it for those wondering, but honestly, I don’t think you should choose a drug addiction for this course, other than lesser drugs like caffeine or nicotine.
OK, so those are the three levels for habits you might want to quit â€“ and of course, there are many other habits that I haven’t listed, but you should be able to get the idea of what goes where.
If in doubt, choose an easier level than you think you might be capable of, at least for this month’s module. You can always tackle a harder habit later.
ACTION STEP: Today, you should pick a habit to quit in August. I’ll have more action steps in the next few days.