Self-discipline is defined by Merriam-Webster as a "correction of regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement.” That means ending a bad habit requires self-discipline, which usually means sacrificing something. For example, if you wish to eat healthier, that comes at the price of limiting your intake of sweets and alcohol while increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables. You may also eliminate processed and high-fat meats (like bacon and red meat) and switch to leaner meats (like turkey and fish).
Sometimes certain people can trigger bad habits, so you’ll have to make a difficult decision: do you see less of those people, or do you keep your bad habit? Although it may not be easy to eliminate these people from your life, the sacrifice of the relationship can help you end your bad habit. For example, if you want to stop drinking, but your friend is only interested in hanging out at bars, it may best to part ways.
However, you shouldn’t make all of these sacrifices at once says Develop Good Habits, who notes that your willpower has a limited amount of energy every day. When it’s exceeded, your impulses become difficult to control. They compare willpower to a muscle – both get tired and worn out from too much use. If you’re too stressed from constantly trying to control your urges, you eventually won’t have the ability to resist temptations.
Begin by setting a date to start changing your bad habit, and write it down, recommends Develop Good Habits. It’s critical to take your start date seriously, which will require self-discipline. An official countdown will help you stay on track and make you excited about your new change.
Once you have the date set, be very specific about your end goal. Identify the exact date, what sacrifices and improvements you’ll make. For example, instead of saying you want to eat healthier say, “On August 1st, I will no longer eat fast food. Instead, I will eat home-cooked meals that combine vegetables, lean protein, and unrefined carbohydrates.”
You’ll wean yourself off your bad habit through target goals, such as decreasing the amount of cigarettes you smoke by three. In order to do this, you need to establish a baseline metric, like the total amount of cigarettes you smoke everyday or every week. Keep a record of how often you do it, when and where you do it, whom you’re with, and how it makes you feel.
Author Charles Duhigg says that we often partake in our bad habits because we get a subconscious reward, which is usually a feeling of being relaxed, happy, energized, accepted, or loved. Create strategies you’ll implement whenever you need to feel the reward. Over time, you’ll find activities that will provide the same feeling you get without the negative effects bad habits bring.
For example, if you want to decrease your consumption of alcohol, track this habit for a few weeks, and you will find your drinking habit comes from a need to feel relaxed and reduce stress. It’s also a byproduct of a desire to socialize and have fun. If you crave a beer every day at 6 p.m., make it a point to go for a walk every day at 5:45 p.m. to reduce stress levels. If you want to hang out with your friend, suggest an activity outside of a drinking environment, such as playing golf.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
It takes a lot of self-discipline to identify your weak spots and create a plan for how you’ll act when you feel a craving. It takes even more self-discipline to fight these cravings and stay on track toward your goal. But it’s incredibly helpful to have a plan to do something good when cravings strike.
That being said, don’t beat yourself up if you have a slip-up. You’re only human, and we all make mistakes. Develop Good Habits reminds you to “accept that occasionally giving into a desire as a natural part of making a permanent habit change.”