A heist and the breaking of habits

​The doctor says you’re going to die. So you change. But that’s not the only way to do it. You don’t have to wait until you’re almost dead to make the change.

Imagine a heist. You made it onto the roof, through the ventilation ducts, you knocked out the guards and took down the security system. You got past the door into the vault and now, you see it, perched on a column in the middle of the room.

The diamond.

You cut a hole through the glass case, but one final obstacle remains. The diamond sits on a pressure sensor, a sensor that detects weight. Which means that to remove it, you have to replace it with something of similar weight, instantaneously.

It’s the same with the breaking of habits. Try to just stop smoking, or come off drugs or give up drinking. You won’t be able to unless you replace the behaviour with an equally weighty substitute.

You could replace it with a lesser version of itself, like how smokers go from forty to twenty a day, or how they use patches or e-cigarettes.

Or you can replace the habit with a combination of accountability and shaming, like when someone says, “if you see me buying a drink, don’t let me have it!”

You could take the willpower out of the equation by modifying your environment so that the behaviour you’re trying to kick becomes impossible, like when someone wanting to give up junk food doesn’t let any of it into his house. If it’s there, he knows he’ll eat it, so he gets rid of it all.

But the best way to break a negative habit is to replace it with an equally strong positive behaviour. For most, this comes in the form of exercise. 

When people drink or smoke, they typically neglect their health, so by removing their chosen poison and compensating with an equally stringent health regime, they can make it through the swamp of behaviour change and avoid setting off the alarms.

However you choose to go about it, realise that breaking a habit isn’t easy, and that you have two options. You can wait until the pain reaches such a point that you are unable to go on, until you must change. Or you can preempt it and use a combination of accountability, environmental modification and behaviour substitution.

The latter is the harder of the two, but it also causes the least harm to you and everyone who cares about you.