How To Break Bad Habits For Freelancers
Recently, we took a close look at how entrepreneurs can use the psychology of habit hacking to build more productive routines into their life and work. Just as important to achieving the success you deserve, however, is breaking yourself free of the bad habits that are holding you back.
So in this post, we’ll explore the straightforward steps for how to break bad habits that tend to get in the way of building a successful freelancing business.
Breaking Bad Habits: The Process
Recall that any habit, good or bad, contains the same basic parts: the trigger, the routine, and the reward. When you notice the trigger, your brain encourages you to follow the routine, and your reward helps make this habit loop become a regular part of your life.
Here’s an example of these three parts playing out in a bad habit:
After a long day of work, you sit down on the couch to zone out to some Netflix. The familiar act of streaming video, and maybe even the feel of your couch, triggers your brain. Suddenly, you want popcorn (or ice cream, or Doritos, or whatever your unhealthy movie snack of choice happens to be). Even though you might not be hungry, your brain remembers the warm fuzzy feelings that it associates with watching Netflix and eating junk food. So you fall into the habit, maybe every single night, of bingeing on food while you binge on your favorite shows.
Just like building good habits relies on hacking any of these three parts of the habit loop, the process is the same when it comes to how to break bad habits. Here are the steps…
Step 1: Identify and Eliminate Your Triggers
The trigger is the thing that signals to your brain that it’s time to perform the bad habit. If you want to kill the habit, you’ve got to kill the triggers. Once you identify the signals that are triggering your bad habits, you need to find ways to reduce or remove them completely. At the same time, you can also add new triggers that remind you NOT to do something. Here are some examples…
- If you have the bad habit of being distracted from your work, you can disable phone and desktop notifications for social media, email, or anything else that claims your attention.
- If you have a bad habit of procrastinating, you can set an alarm for the same time every day to remind you to work on your most immediate project.
- If you tend to eat poorly when you are stressed out, you can take steps to reduce stress, such as leveling out your work load and getting adequate sleep.
Step 2: Build Discipline to Break the Routine
The more you can eliminate your triggers, the better. But times will come when you feel the urge to dive into your bad habits again. When they do, you’ll fare better if you have built up your discipline to fight back against the habit loop.
Ignoring your triggers takes hard work. It’s a drain on your willpower. This is why, for example, you shouldn’t try to quit smoking, cut back on carbs, and reduce your social media usage all at the same time. Psychologically speaking, you are setting yourself up for failure. As much as you might wish that you are motivated enough to transform into Superman overnight, the brain just doesn’t work that way for most people.
So take it one bad habit at a time. Identify the habits you want to break and then prioritize them based on how badly they are holding back your success. As you successfully ignore the triggers for one habit over and over again, it will become easier every time. Eventually, it won’t cost you as much willpower, so you’ll have the reserves to start tackling the next bad habit.
Step 3: Rethink Your Rewards
You form a bad habit because you get a temporary reward for it, even if it hurts you in the long run. For example, maybe you have a nasty habit of sleeping in (even though you need to face the day). The immediate psychological reward might be the fact that you get to ignore the stressors of the day for a little bit longer. In the moment, this may seem much more appealing to your brain than the consequences of getting a little bit behind on your work. But deep down you know that it adds up over time and reduces your productivity.
So, you can override your brain by creating negative consequences for your bad habits that outweigh the perceived reward. For example, the freelancer who is trying to break the sleeping in habit could schedule some sort of embarrassing tweet to automatically publish every morning for the next 30 days. In order to keep it from going out, he would have to at least wake up enough to cancel the tweet.
Another consequence is simply accountability. If you have a person or group you can trust to keep you honest, consider regularly reporting your progress with breaking bad habits. The very knowledge that you have to admit failure to someone else is often enough to motivate you to do the right thing.
Finally, consider rewarding yourself for breaking your bad habits. In other words, create a reward for breaking the habit that is even better than the reward you get from the bad habit. For example, if you are trying to break the habit of ignoring client messages for too long, you could reward yourself every time you respond to a message within two hours. Maybe you put a dollar into a jar every time you fight the habit, and once it’s reached a hundred bucks, you treat yourself to something nice.
Fight Back Against Freelancer Bad Habits
You don’t have to be a slave to your habits. Now that you have a clear idea of how to break bad habits, you can start taking small, meaningful steps to create a more productive work routine for yourself. So identify your bad habits, tackle them one by one, and watch your success snowball over time.