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After a breakup, many people believe they need some radical transformation. They want to become this smarter, healthier, more resilient, and magnetic person overnight. They flirt with the idea of flipping a switch and changing everything about themselves.
Wake up, fuckface.
Not only are these sudden transformations impossible, you don’t even need one! All you really need are better habits. People too often overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making better daily decisions.
Almost every post-breakup habit you possess — proper self-care, quality sleep, solid diet, excessive shopping, feeling sorry for yourself, getting drunk often, etc. — results from many small decisions that added up over time.
With that in mind, a common mistake people make after their breakup is setting their sights on some radical transformation they want to achieve instead of focusing on their habits and routines.
I’ve been guilty of this just like everyone else. Even today, years after my breakup, I’m still learning how to get better with my habits — just like you.
Luckily I’ve discovered a bunch of helpful information about habit formation and destruction over the years — information that allowed me to rapidly progress in many areas of my life. And in this article, I’ll share some of this information so you can get better at habits yourself too.
What Are Habits
Habits are automatic responses to a familiar environment. They are tiny decisions you make every day and the behaviors you perform repeatedly.
Do you always lock the door before you go to sleep? That’s a habit. Do you brush your teeth every night? That’s a habit. Do you meditate each day for 10 minutes before breakfast? That’s a habit.
The sole purpose of your mind forming habits is to preserve energy. For instance, you don’t have to think about brushing your teeth or wiping your ass because it’s already an automated set of movements. And as a result of these unconscious movements, your brain preserves energy.
Gazing from afar, the sum of your habits essentially make up your life. How in or out of shape, successful or unsuccessful, happy or unhappy you are — it all boils down to your habits. Habits even dictate the kind of person you become, what you believe in, and the personality you portray.
The Science Of How Habits Work
There is a simple 3–step pattern that every habit adheres to. James Clear, the author, blogger, and pioneer of habit research, calls this pattern “3 R’s Of Habit Change.” Here it is:
- Reminder (the trigger or cue that initiates some behavior).
- Routine (the behavior itself, meaning the action you take).
- Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior).
Here’s what this framework looks like when applied to a common unhealthy post-breakup habit — in this case, stalking an ex.
Step 1 (Reminder): You log into Facebook and see they’re online. This is the reminder that initiates a certain behavior. In this case, the action of clicking on your ex’s profile and browsing it, observing what’s new.
Step 2 (Routine): You meticulously scan your ex’s profile. This is the actual behavior. When you see your ex’s profile, you have a habit of clicking on it and stalking them for a while.
Step 3 (Reward): You discover what they’re doing, who they’re with, and what’s new in their life. This is the reward — the benefit gained from doing a certain behavior. In this case, the reward for completing the habit was satisfying your curiosity and finding more about your ex’s life.
Result: If the reward feels good (regardless whether it’s healthy or unhealthy), the habit cycle forms a feedback loop that tells your brain, “the next time reminder X happens, do the same thing.” In our case, “the next time your ex is online, stalk them.”
Conversely, you can use the steps above to create a new, healthy post-breakup habit. Say, working out three times a week. You can manipulate your environment to introduce reminders/cues that you can then leverage and intentionally start associating with a desired behavior/routine and reinforcing it all with a reward.
Creating Good Post-Breakup Habits
Apart from leveraging the 3 R’s Of Habit Change, here are some additional proven tips for building healthy and empowering habits like getting quality sleep, eating healthy, being more productive, becoming more social, etc.
1. Schedule a time and place for the habit you’re trying to implement in your life. For example, “I will do my daily meditation as soon as I wake up at 6 am, in my living room. The formula is “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].” Also, schedule your habits in writing first — it makes them easier to stick to.
2. Stack your habits — put the one you’re trying to create on top of one you’re already consistent with. For example, “After I journal, I will eat a healthy meal.” The formula is “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].” As with the previous tip, stack your habits in writing first.
3. Design your environment so your habit reminders are visible and obvious. For example, pop a sticky note on your computer screen reminding you that you must do a short gratitude practice before going online.
4. Pair a habit you want to do with a habit you need to do. For example, while showering, reflect on why your relationship didn’t work out and how to not screw up the next one.
5. Decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits. For example, to work out more often, leave your workout clothes in your office so you have no excuse but to hit the gym after work.
6. If the habit itself is not rewarding, give yourself an award when you do it. For example, let yourself eat an unhealthy meal if you got through an entire week of dieting; or a rest day if you stuck with your exercise regime for X days; or a vacation if you worked your ass off for a certain period.
7. Automate your habits — invest in technology and one-time purchases that lock in future behavior. For example, I installed a special app on my computer that blocks access to my Internet from 7-10 am so I can bang out my morning writing without distractions.
8. Start small. If a habit feels impossible, you likely won’t stick with it. Whereas if it feels easier, you will. So if you want to start eating healthy and decide you’ll completely cut out junk food, it will feel like a massive and daunting task. Whereas if you simply start by replacing one crappy meal a day with a healthier alternative, then the whole thing will feel much easier to accomplish — and thus, it will be.
9. Plan for failure. At some point, you will be faced with temptations and will give in to them. To mitigate this, make a plan to fend off these temptations ahead of time. For instance, if you’re trying to be more sociable, give yourself a weekly play-video-games-for-8h-straight day. And on days when you should stick with building a certain healthy habit, make a conscious effort to remind yourself not to sabotage your progress when faced with temptations. Think about how proud you’ll feel for withholding and displaying a little self-discipline.
Breaking Bad Post-Breakup Habits
Here are a few proven tips for breaking unhealthy and disempowering habits like using alcohol and drugs to cope with your loneliness or trying to suppress your breakup pain through excessive shopping, sex, video games, Youtube, etc.
1. Make the bad habit invisible; remove its cues from your environment; reduce its exposure. For example, if you’re addicted to Facebook or Youtube and are using it only to avoid pain, consider a social media detox.
2. Reframe your mindset around a bad habit, and highlight the benefits of avoiding it. For example, if you’re stalking your ex obsessively, ponder and write down the cons of doing so — why it harms your mental and emotional health.
3. Make the bad habit as difficult to do as possible. For example, if you can’t stop buying new shit, make a deal with a friend to go through your bank statements every month with you. And if you find out you bought something you don’t need, give that friend 100$. Another expression for this is getting an accountability partner.
4. Remove as many bad-habit triggers as possible. For example, if you drink, stop going to the bar. Or if the first thing you do when you come home is sit in front of the TV and open Netflix, hide your remote somewhere — or get someone else to hide it.
5. Substitute your bad habit with something. For example, have a plan that goes: “when I feel like I’ll respond to boredom, stress, or grief with a bad habit, do [good habit].”
Maintaining Lasting Habits
A crucial component for building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity for yourself first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. Whatever you do and are doing now is a mirror image of the type of person you consciously or subconsciously believe you are. Therefore:
To change your behavior for good — to stick with your habits — you need to start believing new things about yourself.
This boils down to:
- Deciding on the type of person you want to be.
- Proving that identity to yourself via small wins through your habits.
- Amping up those small wins when you get some initial results.
That said, don’t amp them up too much. Or else, you’ll risk completely losing motivation and stalling. I can’t stress this enough. Whatever habit you wish to stick to, the goal is not to achieve results with it at first; the goal is to become the type of person who can reach those results.
Getting Back On Track After Slipping Up
Habit formation hinges on your ability to bounce back from setbacks — times when you fail to keep up with a habit/routine. Be ready; these occurrences will happen. After all, no one’s a robot.
When you slip up and fail to keep up with a particular habit you’d like to form, or you indulge in one you’d like to get rid of, simply restart the process.
What I mean by this is try your best not to slip up again. Failing to stay consistent with a habit once or twice isn’t a big deal. It only becomes a big deal when it starts happening 4,5,10 times in a row. That’s when things start deteriorating, and your progress begins to regress.
Further Resources For Building And Breaking Habits
If you’d like to explore this topic in more detail, I suggest the following resources:
- Atomic Habits — By James Clear
- The Power of Habit — By Charles Duhigg
- Daily Rituals: How Artists Work — By Mason Currey
- Hooked — By Nir Eyal
- The Slight Edge — By Jeff Olson
- The Habit Academy (Online Course) — By James Clear
- How To Be Insanely Productive Despite A Breakup — My Article
- The Radical Recovery Course — By me, Max Jancar
If you need more help healing from your breakup, check out my Radical Recovery Course. It includes hours of video and hundreds of pages of writing, and a community with exclusive weekly videos, private chat, and 1-on-1 coaching.
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