How To Beat Bad Habits

We all have them: Here’s how to beat them.

Craig Ballantyne, publisher of, and who kindly inspired this blog, is a really smart guy.  He recently made me aware of a principle that I’ve applied for years without even knowing it.

He writes: “[…] Open your eyes to the power of your environment. When you control your environment, you help controlling your future.”

What on earth does that mean?

He explains: “If we have a bad habit, putting ourselves into an environment that promotes the bad habit is the first step in making the bad habit worse. Therefore, we need to identify not only the bad habits in our lives that we want to change, but also the environments we must avoid in order to foster this change.”

Examples he gives include:

  • An alcoholic shouldn’t walk into a bar.
  • A dieter shouldn’t have any junk food in the car — or at home.
  • A diabetic shouldn’t walk into a donut shop.
  • A shopaholic should avoid going to the mall with a credit card.
  • A dieter shouldn’t go to the all-you-can-eat buffet.

The alternative of course is to have a lot of willpower.  Could you walk in an all-you-can-eat buffet and order a side salad with no dressing?

Clearly, it’s much easier to avoid temptation than to resist falling for it.

On that topic, Craig Ballantyne writes: “That takes a strong-willed person, and really, that willpower is best left to fight against something else more important in your life. Instead of wasting the willpower on this environment, just keep yourself out of the offending environment altogether.”

His suggestion is two-fold:

  1. Identify a bad habit, and where you are most likely to indulge (“I gossip when I hang out around the coffee machine at 10 am”).  This applies to specific people as well (“I always smoke when I’m with John”).
  2. Identify a solution to avoid being in that situation altogether: “Don’t hang out around the coffee machine at 10 am” or “Don’t hang out with John.”

Craig Ballantyne used this concept in his own life.  Instead of meeting with his best friend at a bar on Saturday evenings and nights, he now meets him at “healthy” locations on Sunday afternoons. The result? “Our friendship is stronger than ever,” he says.

So the concept has nothing to do with severing ties or losing friends – unless you think that would be a good solution to your problem of course.

I realized that I’ve applied this idea in my own life without even knowing it.  I don’t want to get too personal here, but I’m kinda-sorta addicted to TV. I could watch documentaries all day and devour movies all night.  Thrillers, comedy, adventures, CSI (in any location!), reruns of Friends, traveling, History, mysteries, Science, Space, explorers of the North Pole, animals of any continent, Myth Busters – you name it, I’m interested.

So my solution was simple: no more cable.  Sure, I’ve suffered from severe withdrawal at first, but now I spend this free time on more valuable endeavors, such as writing for Veterinary Practice News.

What’s your addiction and what’s your solution?

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at

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