One of my worst habits is twirling my hair. It’s not the end of the world, but it does make me look fairly unprofessional (and it wrecks havoc on my hair). So, to break the cycle, I have this routine with my dad—whenever we hang out, and I start twirling, he stops talking and makes this hand motion that signals to me that I’m unconsciously playing with my hair again.
Weird, right? Yes—but also effective. You see, your bad habits don’t bother you, that’s why you continue to do them. But, when someone else starts to notice, you get embarrassed, and suddenly, you feel like fixing them.
That’s my philosophy—make your good behaviors communal, and break bad ones with others.
When I was living in London, I bought a very expensive gym membership. I had three months to make it a worthy expense, except (surprise), I hate working out. The catch was that I purchased it with a friend. Every time I wanted to back out for the day, she held me accountable by making me feel guilty for not joining her, and I did the same for her. By the time our memberships expired we were both going to the gym regularly and running our best times. Friends don’t let friends not hit the treadmill.
And I’m not alone in this strategy: Various studies, according to a recent Inc. article, prove that habits are contagious. Smokers are more likely to quit when they’re hanging out with other quitters, while weight loss is highly attributed to group settings. The idea is that if you want to develop good habits, you have to “catch” them by surrounding yourself with people who share those habits.
Plus, isn’t it so much nicer to have someone cheering you on, rather than relying solely on your inner voice to get you through?
Think about who you spend time with and if they are the kinds of people you want influencing your routine. If so, use that to your advantage by bringing them alongside you—to the gym to get fit, to a bar to cut back on spending, to a coffee shop to get work done, to the park to job search and sunbathe. If not, consider whether they’re the ones that are encouraging your bad behavior, and if they’re worth avoiding when you’re looking to get better.
(I haven’t kicked the hair habit yet, but I have a feeling I will soon.)