It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits

By Leo Babauta

If you’re deeply in debt, or your bad health habits have overwhelmed you, it’s likely that you don’t feel you can make a big impact on those problems anymore.

I know when I was an overweight, sedentary smoker, who was so far in debt that I was constantly depressed … I felt hopeless.

It feels like any attempt you make to change your situation will have no real impact. It feels like it’s not worth making an effort.

One reader wrote:

‘I keep feeling like I don’t know what to do that will have a significant impact and that at this point, there is no hope of revival in any significant way. I am really worried about the rest of my life as I am feeling the effects of my age.’

When I used to try to lose weight, I would go out for a jog and feel horrible, and then repeat this for about a week. And I’d still be terribly overweight, but now I was sore and hungrier. That made me feel really bad, and then I’d eat and give up on the exercise.

But I’m here to tell you that it’s not too late.

It’s not hopeless.

It’s possible, and in some ways it’s not as hard as you think.

The key is patience: you need to take the long view.

The problem that most of us have is that we want results right away. When we don’t get those magical results, we lose patience. We lose hope. We quit. And of course, that means we never actually get any meaningful results.

So the answer is to focus on small steps, and enjoying those small steps. Each step is a wonderful event in and of itself, not just a chore you have to get through to your longer-term goal.

Here’s what I’ve found works for me:

  1. Commit to doing a very small step, every day for a month. If you want to lose weight, start replacing one unhealthy thing in your daily diet with a healthy thing. Eat fruit instead of chips for a snack. Eat green veggies at dinner instead of something fried or cheesy. If you want to exercise, run for just 5 minutes a day (at first). If you want to get out of debt, find small ways to cut back on your spending, and make small steps toward making a debt plan and paying off your debts. Other examples: cut back on smoking a few cigarettes at a time, cut back on beer half a can/bottle at a time. Tiny steps. Every day. They add up to a lot over time.
  2. Be accountable. Tell at least one other person you’re going to do this (a group is even better) and report to them regularly. Have a consequence for not doing the habit.
  3. Focus on starting each day. If you’re going to run for 5 minutes, focus on just putting on your shoes and getting out the door. That’s all you have to do! It’s so easy you can’t say no.
  4. Learn to watch your negative thoughts & rationalizations. Your mind will start to make excuses for why you shouldn’t do the habit. You’ll start feeling like you can’t do it. Learn to see these rationalizations and negative thoughts, and learn that though they pop into your head unbidden, you don’t have to believe them. They’re simply your mind’s way of trying to get out of discomfort, but you will learn to be fine in discomfort.
  5. Increase very gradually. Start by running just 5 minutes a day (for example), a very easy way to start, but after a week or two this will feel very easy. It will become your mind’s new “normal”. Once it does, then increase a little more (to 7 or 10 minutes). Make the increase just a small amount, and stick to this change for a little while. It will seem too slow. That’s good — your brain won’t rebel against it as much.
  6. Enjoy each step. You’ll start to feel like you’re not making a lot of progress, but that’s because progress can’t be detected in small amounts. It’s only after a lot of time that you’ll see the progress. Instead, focus on the small step in front of you: getting out the door, running for a few minutes. Or eating some fruit or veggies. Each step is all that matters, and they can be very enjoyable if you let go of the need to get to your goal, and instead appreciate this moment for the wonder that it is. It’s amazing to be outside and exercising! It’s incredible to be eating fresh fruit and vegetables! It’s great to be alive in this moment.

To some of you, this method will seem too simple, but its simplicity is why it works. This worked for me for numerous habits: getting out of debt, eating healthier, exercising, waking earlier, and much more.

For others, this won’t feel doable — but it is. It’s small steps, and each step is very doable. You can do this.