Lets face it; we all have at least one bad habit. And while some bad habits are merely annoying, like knuckle cracking or nail biting, others like smoking or overeating can be downright dangerous to your health. The good news is that any bad habit can be broken, you just need to understand how it works. According to Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” every habit goes through three psychological stages.
- Stage one involves the cue, or trigger that tells your brain to kick into the habitual behavior. Cues can be your surroundings, an emotional state, time of day or any pattern of behavior that triggers a certain behavior.
- The routine (habit itself) such as snacking, reaching for a cigarette or constantly checking your smart phone.
- The last stage is the reward- something your brain likes that tells it to remember the pattern and keep it going in the future.
Now that you know the stages of habit formation, lets go over a few techniques that can help you break habits.
- Eliminate your cues. Get ride of the triggers that tell your brain to go into habit mode. If you like to smoke on the patio, remove the chair you normally sit in and replace it with a healthy plant. If you can’t resist the vending machines on the way to the restroom, take a different route so you never even see the snacks. It may take some time to figure out what your cues are, but this is a vial step in conquering your habit.
- Find your replacement. Try substituting a good behavior for the bad one. Instead of a third cup of high-octane coffee, shake up your morning routine with a little green tea, a smoothie, coconut water or a low-sodium veggie juice. The important thing is to find a healthy, positive substitute you’ll enjoy.
- Create barriers. If you spend too much time on the internet, try disconnecting for a set time, or use an internet restriction app like Freedom or Anti-Social. If you’re trying to quit smoking give your cigarettes to someone else so you’ll have to be accountable to that person every time you cheat. Anything that makes your habit unpleasant or difficult to perform can help break down your routine.
- Reward yourself. One reason pleasure-based habits are so hard to break is because they give us enjoyment and activate our brain’s reward center. If you suddenly take away that reward, your body can feel it. So try rewarding your positive new behavior with something you’ll enjoy, like a night out with friends after you complete a project you’ve been putting off.
- Take advantage of vacation time. Studies show that people engage in habitual behaviors – like putting on their shoes—in exactly the same way as long as they’re in the same environment. But change their surroundings and their behavior often changes because now their cues are gone. That’s why it is a great idea to break old habits and establish healthy new ones while on vacation.
Remember, your bad habits have been hardwired into your brain through years of repetition. So it may take time to break those patterns and establish healthy new ones. Just be patient and stick with it! If you slip up in some way, don’t freak out. You’re not a failure, you’re just human. The key is to get back on track quickly and stick to your goal. You can break free of bad habits and replace them with healthy new ones!