Steps to Breaking a Habit: A Table of Contents
Habits can make or break a writing career.
One of the best things you can do as a writer is create a writing habit. This could be that every day at the same time you sit down and write for x amount of time, or it can mean you get into a weekly system of writing, editing, marketing, repeat. Everyone has something different that works for them.
However, creating habits is just part of it. What is equally important is breaking habits.
There are so many things we do each day that act as distractions or hinder us entirely from working toward our goals.
I want to share my story of a particular habit that I am trying to break: Facebook.
Note: I recognize that not everyone wants to read my experience. you folks out there, I see you, and I’ve got your back. you can skip to the part just for you here.
This is not an anti-Facebook post by any means, I have many, many reasons for wanting to distance myself from it. I wanted to share this because it is a habit (or addiction, as many might label it) that many people can relate to. What’s more, many people might broaden the term to encompass any social media, or might instead swap it out for another form of social media or digital distraction (like streaming shows).
I always thought that I had social media under control. After all, I was holding down a job, and doing well at it, and could always make sure my phone was out of sight while on the job. When I was with friends, I only pulled out my phone if the subject matter of discussion warranted it (like showing pictures or swapping info), or if my friend got sucked into their own phone.
Plus, I’ve always needed it because it’s an excellent source of marketing. It’s how I share my writing, my business (and I’ve had many businesses, as well as general interests for which I made a FB page for, such as eco-living, excellent and important podcasts, etc.), and once I moved to the UK from Washington State, it was how I kept in contact with my family and friends.
Finally, I got a lot of my news from Facebook. I have a lot of friends with a lot of interests who were keeping up to date with scientific advances, interesting practices and recipes, and of course, politics (which I tried to double check whenever I could).
Facebook has always been essential.
Wanting to Quit
(But did I really?)
I have tried to cut back on Facebook many times. I deleted the app, but then found that I would just log on via my browser anyway. I put myself on a timer, but I got annoyed when it would shut me down in the middle of reading something, so that was short lived. I then tried to keep track of my over-all screen time on my phone with weekly reports, but could never really remember how I did the previous week.
And when it came down to it, there were worse things I could be doing with my spare time, like husseling or smoking meth. I happily have never had an inkling to do either of those things, so Facebook has always seemed like a pretty reasonable habit to replace what could be far worse.
The Deal Breaker
Like I said, there were a lot of reasons why I wanted to quit Facebook, but I had a lot of excuses for why I should keep it.
I won’t go into what the actual deal-breaker was. That’s just for me and maybe some of the people I interact with (fun fact: you can book a free 30-minute session with me, and ask me all about it while you tell me about your work in progress!). However, when I did reach that point, I struggled to know where to start. After all, some of those reasons were valid reasons.
However, I knew that I actually wanted to do it. There was no shred of me that wanted to keep it around except for what seemed like the obligations such as keeping contact (a welcomed obligation) and marketing.
Finding the Compromise
I took several steps to make sure this happened, and I’ll tell you, it was hard.
Step 1: Timing
I picked a time when I knew I was going to be busy. I was in my second week of my visit to the states, and had about four days left to cram in everything I wanted to do with my friends and family, as well as showing my partner around my home state. By the way, Washington has tons of cool stuff to do, even in January.
One the four days were up, the following two days were going to be spent traveling and stressing. While I was traveling as well, I intended on catching up on a ghostwriting project I had at the airport and on the plane. Again, with needing to keep focus on the actual travel situation and get some work done, this made for a perfect time to switch off from distractions.
Step 2: Practical Steps
I needed to get rid of anything that would tempt me into checking Facebook. I deleted the app and deleted the history of it on my phone and on my computer. It’s really easy to go to Facebook when all you have to do is press the f + enter.
I didn’t delete Facebook entirely. Again, I still felt that my reasons were valid. So, I kept the Messenger app and downloaded the Facebook Pages Manager app, but put them on the second screen over. This meant that it wasn’t on my front screen, and I had to work to remember where I’d moved them to. This interrupted the automatic habit of clicking on them just for the sake of it. I had to think about what I was doing.
Step 3: Replacement
There were plenty of things to replace my habit. I could just get super hooked on Twitter instead, or Instagram. Or I could think constructively.
There are a lot of apps that I could use that would work toward writing, providing writing prompts, or creating a space to write and email what you’ve written fairly easily. Or I could even just write out blog entries on my phone. But I thought I would go with something entirely different.
I opted to learn a language.
So, now instead of spending hours on Facebook, I am learning Greek on Duolingo. It’s like a game, you get points, you level up and compete a little bit against others, and I’m learning at the same time. It’s expanding my mind.
This isn’t the most optimal, because I’m still distracted by it, but I am doing something constructive and working toward something that’s been on my goals list for quite some time.
At the time of posting this, I will have gone five weeks without Facebook. Again, I have kept the Messenger app and the Pages app, but that’ sit.
There have been some slip-ups. For example, while looking for a new car, I’ve clicked on a link that’s taken me to the Facebook Market place. I quickly exit out of the tab and start my search again, but usually, I don’t feel the draw to actually check the 61 notifications I saw at the top of the page.
The only time I actually miss Facebook, is when I feel that actual physical pull of mechanical habit wanting to hit f + enter. To be fair, that is most times I’m on the internet. But, through eliminating FB from my history, I no longer have that ease of being able to hit those two keys. I have to type out the whole address if I want to visit there. When I do slip up and hit f + enter, it just searches the letter f. This has helped me to be aware of when I do it, which is slowly making me aware of the want to do it before I get around to it. When I’m conscious of it, it’s easy enough to do something else entirely to deter the want.
So yes, that’s great for me, but what about you? You’re reading this so that you can learn to break your habits, not to know that I was able to do it.
Here’s what you can take away from my experience:
1. Make Sure You Want It
Partially wanting to quite a habit isn’t enough. You need a reason that you can hold on to. Whether you’re trying to quit smoking, trying to quit chewing your nails, trying to quit binging Friends for the hundredth time, or trying to quit toxic relationships. You need to be able to have a solid reason to tie yourself to.
2. List Why You Want Need Your Habit
Go easy on yourself. Examine the reasons you don’t want to break your habit, or why you feel you need to maintain it even if you don’t want to. Go through that list item by item and reason with it. How can you get around it?
3. Pick a Time
When you feel like you’ve negated your reasons or found a way to work around them, and when you’ve found your anchor to tie yourself to, then consider your timing.
When dieting, for example, it is strongly advised that you time the start of your diet right. When are the times you’re likely to stress eat or go for the junk food rather than the good stuff? Time your detox of your habit right.
4. Create a Step-by-Step Plan
Once you know your timing, then think about what steps you can take to break your habit. I once read a review of a self-help book. The book apparently suggested that if you wanted to quit smoking, you just didn’t light the cigarette, it was that easy. The review said, “Really, it’s that easy? Have you done it?”
Habits can be unconscious things. Sometimes we don’t realize we’re participating in it until we’re already doing it. So while you’re considering your plan, think about those times when you numbly fall into your habit and how you can navigate around them.
The art of remaining present in mind is a massive help. A great introduction to how to do this and the benefits of this is Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. By learning to stay present, you don’t fall into the mindlessness of automatic action without thinking.
Take practical steps that you’ve outlined in your plan and take them. Do you have a cold-turkey plan, or a gradual plan?
5. Find a Replacement
Let’s say you’re trying to replace toxic friendships in your life. What can you do instead of spending time with these people? You can put yourself out there to find new people, first of all. This could be by joining a book group, writing group, yoga class, or volunteering. Or you could decide that the time you spent on those toxic people is better spent on you. You could go to a movie by yourself or take yourself out dancing.
Spend time doing something you love, that brings you joy and lifts you up.
Remember, you’re human. You’re going to have slip-ups. We all do, and that’s okay. But when you do, or when you catch yourself doing it, there are a few things you need to do:
- Notice that you’re doing it. If you don’t realize you’re doing it, then you won’t be able to stop yourself.
- Forgive yourself. Ragging on yourself for slipping up isn’t going to do you any good. In fact, it’s only going to put more pressure on you and make it more likely that you’ll do it again and again. However, if you can show yourself compassion, then you’re releasing good thoughts toward yourself. When you can think good things, then you can release those wonderful and good brain chemicals, and they’re the ones that are going to see you through this.
- When you do notice yourself slipping up, or feeling the urge to give in, drink water.
What? Drink water?
Honestly. Drinking water is your friend.
When you drink water, you think clearer and make better decisions. Plus it hydrates you, which can make you feel better, supports your immune system, supports the function of your body, and is a good habit to be in, anyway. I do this all the time when I catch myself getting distracted instead of writing or working on things for my business. Try it.
What is your habit that you’re struggling to break? What are you missing out on because of this habit? I’d love to hear about it and have a conversation about it. Feel free to contact me, or to leave a comment below.
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