Do you want to know the worst thing about bad habits? People often know that they need to break free of them, that they need to change, but they actually resist their own efforts to change. The reason for this is because habits are comfortable, whether they are good or bad. The problem is that most people go about breaking bad habits all wrong.
Before you can break a habit, you have to understand how a habit forms. Habits are hardwired into your brain because they are things that you repeat over and over again. They become harder to break if some sort of reward results from the action. For example, smoking cigarettes can become habitual if you only smoke on work breaks. If you resort to cigarettes to take the edge off when you experience stress or difficult emotions, smoking becomes even more habitual.
The Making Of A Habit
Many psychologists have varying theories about how habits come into existence. Most experts agree that habits take practice and repetition, which brings us to the theory of the three Rs:
- Reminder: A trigger or cue that is most likely a conscious behavior. This can include flushing the toilet or even feeling anxious.
- Routine: The behavior is associated with the trigger or cue. For example, the act of flushing the toilet cues you to wash your hands. Feeling anxious may result in nail-biting or even taking a drink of alcohol. The behavior becomes routine.
- Reward: This is what makes the habit stick. Without the reward, you would not continue to engage in the behavior. The reward typically takes the form of stress relief or pure enjoyment. The brain releases dopamine and that makes you want to do the habit over and over again.
4 Tips For Breaking Bad Habits
Focus On Why You Want To Change
Why do you want to break a certain habit? If you cannot identify the “why,” you probably won’t break it. A habit becomes easier to break when the change you want to make is more beneficial than your current behavior. Are there any benefits to breaking your habit? Write them down so that you can visualize how changing will improve your life. Keep this list as a motivational marker on the fridge, or some place that you will readily see it. Seeing the list may also prevent you from falling back on the old habit when times get tough.
Identify Your Cues
As we covered in the three Rs, the cue is what causes you to engage in the behavior, be it bad or good. Work breaks might be the cue for a cigarette if you are a smoker. The key is to identify when the habitual behavior occurs. Does it happen at a certain time of day and are there other factors involved? When you identify the trigger, you can control the outcome and even avoid your bad habits. If you want to stop going for after work drinks at the bar on your way home, drive a different route so that it doesn’t tempt you. If you can’t identify what triggers you, try to work backwards like a detective solving a case. What caused you to go to the fridge and get a piece of chocolate?
Deal With The Cues
The only way to break a pattern is to deal with the problem. When you finally identify your cues, i.e. whatever makes you eat junk food, drink a beer, or smoke a cigarette, get on the offensive. If you run to the fridge to grab a beer as soon as you get home, get the beer out of the house. If you go for sweets when you watch TV at night, stop buying sweets. When you are stressed out and want a cigarette, try listening to music instead to release the tension. When you don’t put yourself in the danger zone, you won’t make the same mistakes.
Replace Your Habit With A New Behavior
Breaking a habit cold turkey is not always as easy as it seems! Some people may find that it’s easier to replace an old habit with newer, healthier behavior. For instance, if you want to stop eating chips as a snack at work, avoiding the vending machine may not always pan out. If you bring a container of dehydrated fruit or unsalted cashews and leave them at your desk, however, that will provide you with another snack option. Once you start repeating the new behavior, your old habit will die out. You’ll start to see the rewards of the new habit and that will motivate you to leave older, unhealthier habits behind.