5 Bad Habits You Can Easily Swap for Good Ones

Let’s face it: we all have bad habits. They sneak into our lives in a variety of insidious ways. Sometimes we learn them from others, sometimes we pick them up to ignore how stressed out we are, and sometimes they start filling time for no good reason.

I am no exception to this rule. While I feel very fortunate to have completely avoided the bad habit of drinking alcohol (mild poison), I have struggled to beat countless other bad habits, such as:

  1. staying up late, especially when I have work the next morning;

On the one hand, we should not be too hard on ourselves for falling into a rut now and then. Life can be a stressful, challenging thing to manage when it keeps throwing us curveballs.

But on the other hand, once I build up a bad habit, it can be monumentally difficult to reverse the process. I only have so much willpower, and if I try to just not do it, I often wind up doing it more because I am giving the habit so much attention.

So how can we quit our bad habits? Rather than white-knuckling my effort to quit a habit, I ( and others) have found that replacing a bad habit with a good one is much easier. Here are 5 good habits I have used to overwrite bad ones that may help you lead a more productive, fulfilling lifestyle.

1. Get in Bed Before Your Evening Routine Instead of After

My wife and I had a running joke about how often we would tell each other, “We should go to bed earlier.” For the first few years of our relationship, we would chronically stay up well past midnight playing video games, bingeing on Netflix shows, mindlessly surfing YouTube… y’know, the usual suspects. This was compounded by several other bad habits that I will discuss in more detail below, but you get the idea.

The thing is, we could not convince ourselves to change our ways. Setting an alarm didn’t stop us. Neither did starting shows earlier. This is because, as I said, we were trying to will ourselves to do better, at the end of the work day, when we had the least energy to make a lifestyle change.

While we are still not perfect about it, the solution that has stuck the best is not one you are likely to hear from folks telling you how to sleep better: get ready for bed, then watch the shows and play the games.

With the advent of the iPad and the Nintendo Switch, we find that we can usually bring most of our entertainment with us. Once we have both changed, brushed our teeth, and curled up with a book or show or game in bed, we tend to be quite sleepy and turn the devices off a lot earlier. To be sure, a perfectly-disciplined person would probably not look at screens so late at night anyway, but this strategy has gotten us into lights-out mode hours earlier than when we were spending more time in the living room.

2. Get Calories From Protein Shakes Instead of Sugary Beverages

A few weeks ago, I started using an app called Centr to build up a good exercise, diet, and mental health routine. The fact that the app offers all three of those things was one of the killer features for me: the holistic approach seemed better than playing whack-a-mole with disparate programs and ideas. And if I look like Thor (er, I mean, Chris Hemsworth) in a few months, even better!

I do not follow Centr’s regimen perfectly, but I do eat the breakfast and post-workout meals pretty consistently. These meals have helped me improve my overall diet because they are so high in carbs and protein, which make me feel full even after burning a ton of calories. The meals are typically either:

* protein shakes (fruit of all kinds, oats, macadamia nuts, protein powder, and milk),

* toast (usually with toppings like eggs, avocado, spinach, and lemon juice), or

* granola (oats, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and cocoa).

The unintended-yet-excellent side effect of making this dietary change, coupled with my new job’s coffee machine and fridge full of low-calorie drinks, is that I am drinking far fewer sugary beverages like Starbucks lattes and Nos energy drinks. I find myself dedicating a little extra time to making real meals in the morning, which gives me less time and justification to run to a coffee shop or a gas station. The worst part of those drinks, for me, was that their high calorie count led to my extra-bad habit of replacing real entire meals with them. No wonder I felt so exhausted all the time! As one might expect, I feel a lot better after my dietary modifications.

The situation I just described is hard to emulate completely, but you can certainly follow some of these steps yourself. When you are trying to cut back on sugary drinks, also add some fruit and eggs to your diet that will substitute the calories your body is expecting. Your body will thank you, and I would bet that your wallet won’t notice much difference anyway, given the cost of Starbucks these days.

3. Use Meal Delivery Services Instead of Eating Out

Another challenging habit to break for me was eating out. I ate out practically every day growing up, so I had almost no cooking experience when I moved out! Fortunately, my wife knew how to cook a few meals, but even they got old for the both of us over time.

Enter HelloFresh, which significantly improved the situation! The meal planning service has new recipes to choose from every week, which gives us more variety while taking some of the stress out of deciding on dinner. We get 3 meals for 2 people every week, which comes to about $62, or a little more than $10/plate. That equates to a price cut or an even break with eating out for us depending on where we go, so it has likely saved us some money overall.

Beyond that, HelloFresh meals are relatively healthy, and they feel like the right amount of prep time for us. Other meal services my wife and I attempted were either more cumbersome to prepare or tasted like glorified frozen dinners, so this one hit the sweet spot for us.

Of course, this leaves four other nights open. Sometimes we eat in or are invited somewhere; sometimes we eat out and try not to overspend on it. But by and large, she cooks a little more, I wash a couple more dishes, we spend more time at home together, and we eat a bit cheaper and healthier throughout the week.

4. Go on a Walk Instead of Going Shopping

Somehow, I built up a bad habit of “window shopping” at Target and Walmart on a fairly regular basis awhile back. It only got worse when I got a job at a T-Mobile store right next to a Target. I would often go into these stores without planning to buy anything, only to come out with an energy drink or candy. The allure of sweets or discounted clothes or shiny electronics is dangerous as it is; there is no need to window shop and tempt yourself even more!

Fortunately, walking is a great replacement habit for this problem. I find that just about any craving I have is gone after a walk of about a mile; my mind tends to wander its way through dozens, if not hundreds, of topics in just 20 or 30 minutes, and at least one of those will thoroughly distract me from the temptation to go buy something. If your mind does not follow this pattern, consider listening to a podcast on your way to get your mind off of that urge to shop and spend.

Besides, if you are reading this during the COVID-19 outbreak, there is much less health risk to going on a walk through your neighborhood!

5. Exercise Before Work

I wake up around 6 AM every weekday to eat breakfast, go to the gym, get ready for work, and drink my post-workout smoothie from Centr before making my commute. This is probably one of the toughest habits to start because it requires quite a bit of inner drive to wake up earlier than absolutely necessary some mornings.

But I found that what finally got me to get out of bed and hit the gym six days a week (I skip it on the day I do yard work) is this: I hate the feeling of getting back into shape. As you may know, the first few days of exercising again are miserable when you have couch-potato’d your way through the last few months. You get tired and sore, and you wind up wondering why you are putting yourself through all this misery.

Now, almost five weeks into using Centr, I’m feeling much better all the time, and I feel good after most of the workouts. I never want to work through that back-at-the-gym exhaustion again, and I also never want that I’m-a-lazy-slob inner loathing feeling again. So here I am, working toward that beach bod!

Final Thoughts

I don’t encourage anyone to try all of these things at once; one or two big habit changes at a time are hard enough! My suspicion about why everyone felt stressed and frustrated about everything, not just the virus, when COVID-19 broke out is that their routines were completely uprooted. A whole bunch of habits were thrown out the window or declared unacceptable, and that is hard to get accustomed to.

But if any of the bad habits I mentioned are bothering you, try swapping them for better ones instead of trying to beat them with willpower alone. It’s what finally got me some results.

What bad habits do you want to break, and what do you want to replace them with? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and be sure to join our new mailing list to keep up with the latest from Novum Opus.

Originally published at https://www.novumopus.com on August 23, 2020.



I write about personal finance, career growth, and making the most of the new workforce. You can find my blog at novumopus.com.

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Dan Rice

I write about personal finance, career growth, and making the most of the new workforce. You can find my blog at novumopus.com.