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How to Break Bad Habits

08/09/2014 15:45 BST | Updated 08/11/2014 10:59 GMT

What are your bad habits? First you have to identify the habits that you want to break. The ones you really don't want to hang to. The ones you consider to be bad habits.

• Smoking?

• Talking too much?

• Drinking?

• Untidiness?

Whether it's that perpetual pile of clothes in the corner you're waiting to someday turn into gold, a self-proclaimed disability which renders you unable to refrain from interrupting, or a knack for timing your exit just so, so that someone else is continually left to do the washing up, now's the time to extinguish these habits before they turn into next year's resolutions.

Here are some of the reasons why.

1. It's not fair to others. One of the great universal laws ruling our wonderful planet says that you get back what you put out there.

2. It's not fair to you. I'm sure you're a nice person, and you pride yourself on having generous, warmhearted traits. So, it's not fair to you either that this simple, little, annoying thing you do can wield the power that it now, or will soon have.

3. Your success depends on it. Bad habits have a funny way of scope and context creep.

4. You probably don't like it when others do the same thing. Think about it. If someone did the same thing to you, would it bother you?

5. List your own reasons. But be sincere and totally honest.

So how do you begin?

Just like breaking a smoking habit, bad habits have a way of creeping up on us and slowly over time becoming somewhat akin to an appendage--i.e. they're hard to get rid of.

While it might not be reasonable to expect that you can just stop whatever you're doing overnight, identify what might constitute as a small step in the right direction? Write down what that step is and carry it out over the next 21 days.

For example, if you are smoking 40 a day, cut that down to 20 for the next 21 days. Make that behaviour a habit before you cut that down to 15 for the next 21 days and then 10 and so on.

Make a commitment to yourself that you will make this shift, and if reinforcement and punishment works--use it! Think about how you might reward yourself for making the change. Or, consider how you might penalise yourself if you don't.

For instance in our smoking example. Put the money you would have spent on the cigarettes in a jar and at the end of the 21 days add it all up and buy yourself a treat for example.

What are some alternatives to the behaviour you are demonstrating? Is there a quick fix or solution that might help provide an alternative--e.g. put a laundry basket by the bedside (one to match with the décor) so that you don't end up with a pile on the floor.

Ask someone to help keep you accountable. If they've been victims of this bad habit, they'll most likely be thrilled you asked! Or seek professional help from a coach or mentor who will definitely hold you accountable. A coach will be non-judgemental and will offer you praise when it is due.

Because human nature dictates that we will only complain when you offend, rather than amend, ask for feedback frequently.

Don't assume, no news is good news, but be sure to get praise when praise is due. Remember to reward yourself when you achieve your short term goals, your medium term goals and your long term goals. It doesn't have to be something expensive, although it can be. It could be a cream tea by the sea, or a cup of coffee, or a small box of chocolates. You decide what your rewards will be and make sure you reward yourself.