Change who you are by replacing one routine with a better one

Written by Donna Rae Smith

Thirty years ago, motivated by a desire to be healthier, I quit smoking. That change had an unanticipated outcome that altered the course of my life: I learned that I had the ability to break a habit and replace it with a new one.

That might sound simple, but for me it was transformative. It extended far beyond a physical act and changed the way I thought about not only myself, but also the world around me.

I started by replacing smoking with new habits — “positive addictions.” If I wanted a cigarette, I would brush my teeth instead, or run up and down a flight of stairs. Eventually, I took up running. In a sense, I was running from a former self to a new self. I came to see myself as someone who could change, no matter how unlikely that change had once seemed.

While we often discuss shifting paradigms in work, we often forget about the need for shifting our individual paradigms. We must actively reshape the mental models we have that tell us what is and isn’t possible.

These models so often condition failure. Deep ruts form in our thinking that lead us to do things as we’ve always done them. Creating new habits helps to steer us into new territory.

When we think about harmful habits, or habits that are limiting our growth, we might think of things like smoking, overeating or disorganization. But there are countless others that can be holding us back.


Out with the old, in with the new

Here are steps for overcoming an unwanted habit and replacing it with a beneficial one.

1.      Identify the triggers

All of our habits have triggers, the hidden motivations that make us engage in the habit. In my case, I smoked when I was stressed, upset or tired. I believed that smoking helped me feel better.


2. Recognize the tradeoffs

I was “trading” stress for a cigarette, or so I thought. Of course smoking didn’t solve anything — it didn’t get at the root of my stress, just momentarily alleviated it. Once you know what you’re trading, ask yourself — is it worth it?


3. Define the possible

In order to quit smoking, I needed to have a vision of my smoke-free life. Who would I be as a non-smoker? What was the value and benefit to me of being smoke-free? I saw my future self as a healthy, vibrant, energetic person. I seized that image and held on to it when I was tempted to smoke.


4. Identify a new habit to replace
the old one

When I had an urge to smoke I replaced that urge by doing something else to occupy my mind, such as running. Find a new habit that will make you a better person.


5. Strengthen the new habit

To become comfortable with a new habit will take time. It’s unrealistic to think you will unlearn one way of doing things and learn a new way overnight. It takes repeated and renewed effort, but with practice you will become more confident.


6. Reward yourself

We all appreciate recognition of a job well done. In this case though, don’t wait for someone else to congratulate you. Do it yourself. Set goals and then reward yourself when you meet them. ●


Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger and columnist for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc.®, a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, visit or contact Smith at


Twitter: @behaviorbiz


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