As we wrap up our month of Quitting a Bad Habit, the question is, “Where do I go from here if I haven’t completely quit yet?”
Even if all has gone well, you might not be completely over your bad habit. And for many of you, things haven’t gone “perfectly” (which is totally fine!), and so you need more work on this habit.
I have three options for you:
- Continue your sole focus on this quit for another month.
- Give up on the quit (if you’re not enjoying it) but remember the lessons you learned.
- Start a new habit next month, but continue putting some focus on continuing to quit your bad habit.
Each of these is completely valid. I’ll talk about each briefly below, along with ideas about managing multiple habits at once, and finally, the temptation to keep adding new habits.
Option 1: Make it a 2-month Quit
This is actually a great option for most people, and I do recommend it if this quit has been important to you. Doing the quit for another month will really cement the habit. However, for lots of us, it’s hard to keep up enthusiasm for one habit change for more than a month. So it depends on where you are with this quit.
I recommend you choose this option (continue for a 2nd month) if one or more of these are true:
- You’re quitting a habit that is life changing â€” like smoking, or eating junk food â€” and really sticking to this quit will make a huge difference in your life.
- You’re still motivated and think you can keep focus for another month with enough motivation.
- You don’t like to do too much at once, and the thought of doing another habit next month sounds overwhelming or too fast for you.
Some people don’t like to overdo things, and others like to keep things fresh and add new habits each month. There’s no right way.
Option 2: Give up on the Quit
If you’ve struggled with this quit, and you really don’t feel like continuing, there’s no shame in giving up. However, if you’ve done fairly well and you are just rationalizing going back to your old bad habit because you feel the urge … you might want to stick with it so you don’t waste all your hard work.
Even if you do quit, don’t just wash your hands of it all and forget about it. Try to take away important lessons from this quit … for example:
- Awareness of your triggers, urges and rationalizations.
- Knowledge of what replacement habits work for you.
- The skill of remembering to do the replacement habit.
- The importance of reviewing, journaling, and accountability.
You might have learned even more than this â€” I would take a few minutes to review your month, and write down your key lessons so you don’t forget.
It might be that you try this quit in the future. I would save your Quit Plan for your next time, and add your notes at the bottom for your future self, to make your next attempt more likely to succeed. Sometimes it takes several attempts (or more) for a quit to stick, but if we’re learning from each attempt, none of them are wasted efforts.
Option 3: Continue the Quit, but also add a new habit
I’m guessing many of you will choose this option â€” you’ve done fairly well on the quit, and you want to continue, but you feel there’s room for more than one habit in your mindspace right now. That’s totally legitimate.
A few things to keep in mind:
- You will still need to continue focus on this habit, even while starting a new habit (more on this in the section below).
- I would still write down the lessons you learned, as in the section above, to cement your learning.
- Help others who are trying to quit the same time â€” it’s a great way to go deeper into your learning and makes you more likely to stick with it for the long term.
More tips for you are in the next section â€” please read!
Managing Multiple Habits
OK, so you’re going to take on a 2nd habit â€” or perhaps you already have multiple habits from previous months, and want to know how to manage them all.
This is an advanced habit skill, and many people ignore the complexities of it. I can’t tell you exactly how to juggle multiple skills in your life, as it depends a lot on your life circumstances, what motivates you, how good you are at focusing on several things (managing your focus), etc. But I’ll try to share what works for me.
Some things that I’ve found to work:
- You’ll need to maintain focus on your previous habit(s), not just assume that it (or they) will continue without any effort. Have a regular reminder, put up visual reminders, so that you don’t forget.
- Start a new habit with care. It shouldn’t be so difficult or overwhelming that it takes all your focus away from previous habits. Start easy, especially if you’re not already decent at doing more than one habit at once.
- Be very careful about taking on more than one new habit (in addition to the old ones you’ve been doing from previous months). More on this below, but there are constant temptations to start new habits depending on things you read online or people in your life who are inspiring you to try new things.
- Keep your social accountability for your old habit(s). In the 2nd month of forming a new habit or quitting a bad habit, you need less accountability, but not zero. You might continue with weekly reports, but not daily, unless you feel you need the motivation. But daily accountability takes work, and doing daily accountability for two habits is tough.
- You might motivate yourself to stay accountable for previous habits by promising something big to other people â€” for example, “If I don’t stick to my Quit Smoking challenge for the 2nd month, I will allow you all to cover me in smelly slime, and videotape it!”
- If you’re adding a new habit, it’s great to find one that will complement the previous one that you’re still working on. For example, if you’re trying to meditate, and you previously were trying to wake early, then meditating in the morning can work well with your old habit. If you were trying to quit smoking, and starting a daily walk or run will help you with stress relief (replacing smoking for that trigger), then those two habit changes are complementary.
In the end, managing multiple habits is an art rather than science, which means that you need to figure out what blend of motivation, focus, reminders, accountability, and complementary habits works for you. Don’t expect to get that mix right instantly â€” your life is an experiment where you’re trying to figure that out, and where you learn from failed attempts.
Temptation to Do More & More Habits
Many of you will have the same problem I have: it’s hard to focus on only one habit at a time. As one Sea Change member writes:
“I’ve come to realize my constant inability to really focus on one habit at a time. … There is a constant need or desire to become this perfect imagined self. I’m holding the years worth of knowledge of reading about habit change and healthy lifestyles that each time I cook, or decide not to exercise, I know a better choice exists.”
What a great observation! Understanding how to deal with this starts with the realization that you’re not good at stopping yourself from trying new habits all the time, and that you have an ideal self that you’re trying to realize, as soon as possible.
Another key realization that I’ve made is that while it’s easy to start a handful of new, healthy habits all at once … it’s not effective. I’ve found in many failed attempts that if I’m not focusing on one new habit at a time, I can’t keep focus or motivation on all of them at once. This is a great recipe for failure!
So realize that you’re trying to achieve an ideal self, that you’re not good at stopping from starting new habits, and that this method doesn’t work too well. This method won’t achieve your ideal self, because you’ll fail. (Actually, you’ll never achieve your ideal self, but you can definitely make improvements.)
The only method I’ve found to work is slow change, one change at a time. If you believe me, then make this a mantra. Slow change, one change at a time.
Make a habit list: what habits do you want to change? What have you already changed? At the top of the list, write the one small habit that you are currently changing. Only one. Every time you feel the urge to start a new habit, consider whether it should replace your current habit as your One Single Habit you’re working on right now. If not, then add it to the ones you want to change in the future. You might have two years’ worth of habits you want to change, but this is a much more effective method than trying to change them all this month, or even in the next few months.
One small change at a time, and you’ll change your entire life.