Changing habits is difficult. Whether it’s a diet, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or managing stress and anxiety, people are often looking for ways to make healthy changes. In fact, the self-improvement industry is nearly worth an eye-watering $11 billion in the United States.
The following approaches and tools aim to help people rid themselves of a habit they want to break.
The Fabulous app is built on a common goal many people share: to be their best self.
“Our team [consists] of lifelong learners. In everything that we do, we want to be better versions of ourselves, but sometimes we lack clarity to achieve our goals, so that’s [what keeps] Fabulous… moving along,” says Kevin Chu, growth marketing lead at Fabulous.
The concept for the app grew out of a conversation between a group of friends who were discussing productivity and focus. “And the idea blossomed into an app that invites and encourages people to be better versions of themselves by leveraging the science of behavior economics,” Chu says.
With the help of Dan Ariely, a behavior change scientist at Duke University and the author of the New York Times best-seller “Predictably Irrational,” Fabulous was born. The tool aims to help its users reset their habits through setting small, obtainable goals, such as drinking more water. Users also work toward achieving larger, long-term goals such as feeling more energized throughout the day, getting a better night’s sleep, and healthier eating.
“We strive for even bigger goals now that we’ve seen the success of Fabulous,” says Chu. “Reading the stories from our community… about the effect Fabulous has had on their mental health, wellness, and happiness just gives that extra push to move faster and bigger.”
The free service provides support, tips, and strategies for quitting smoking and tobacco use. It uses a variety of resources, including scheduled outbound calls, an online community, text messaging, and contests such as The First Week Challenge Contest.
“When I was young, I saw both of my grandfathers smoke and, eventually, they passed away because of it,” says Linda Phrakonkham, a tobacco cessation specialist at Smokers’ Helpline. “If someone could’ve helped them quit maybe it would have been different. I think about that when I speak with people who call us. It’s not just about quitting smoking, but about making a positive change in their life.”
She recalls making a change in one woman who used Smokers’ Helpline on and off from 2003 to 2015. Phrakonkham admits that, at first, the woman was difficult to talk to, but that it was when she changed tactics that the woman began to respond positively to their discussions.
“One day, I focused on doing a lot more listening over talking. Over time, she would start to listen and I would get her to just focus on one skill or one behavior,” Phrakonkham recalls.
Eventually, the woman quit in 2015.
“In one of the calls in those final days she said, ‘You people give people power. I feel like a new me.’ But it wasn’t just that she quit. She told me about how after using [Smokers’ Helpline] for so many years she was able to reconnect with her son and have a better relationship with her daughter-in-law, which meant she got to see her grandchild,” says Phrakonkham.
“The way she spoke was so different compared to our first conversations — it was positive and hopeful, the way she saw her life had changed.”
While struggling for years with panic attacks, chronic anxiety, bulimia and binge eating, psychologist Amy Johnson, PhD, sought out help in different forms, but nothing seemed to stick. To help herself and others, she developed a counterintuitive approach to breaking habits and experiencing lasting change.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that I never thought that was possible. I’m living proof that deep, lasting, no-willpower change is possible for anyone,” Johnson says.
In 2016, she shared her approach in the book, “The Little Book of Big Change: The No-Willpower Approach to Breaking Any Habit.” The book looks to help individuals understand the source of their habits and addictions, while offering small changes that can be made to stop these habits early on.
“There was a huge demand for more from readers. They wanted community, more exploration, more conversation around these ideas, so I created an online school that walks people through an understanding of how our mind works and where our habits come from,” says Johnson.
The Little School of Big Change includes video lessons, animations, conversations with psychiatrists and psychologists, a forum and live group calls lead by Johnson.
“The school is growing by leaps and bounds and has helped hundreds of people find freedom from habits, addiction, and anxiety,” says Johnson.
For over 30 years, Allen Carr’s Easyway has helped an estimated 30 million people around the world stop smoking, including celebrities David Blaine, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ellen DeGeneres, Lou Reed, and Anjelica Huston.
Through in-person or online seminars, Easyway focuses on the reasons why people smoke, rather than why they shouldn’t. This is based on the notion that most smokers already know that smoking’s unhealthy, costly, and often unsociable.
The method removes the smoker’s belief that smoking provides any sort of genuine pleasure or crutch, and that smoking only relieves the withdrawal symptoms from the previous cigarette.
Participants are also taught that the feeling of relief that smokers experience when they smoke a cigarette is the same feeling that nonsmokers experience all the time, removing the fear of sacrifice and deprivation that comes along with quitting.
People who attend the clinics and read the accompanying book are encouraged to smoke or vape as usual until the seminar or book is completed.
Allen Carr’s Easyway approach has also been applied to help with drugs, alcohol, gambling, sugar, weight, anxiety, and various phobias, such as fear of flying.