Habits can help us live our lives more comfortably and efficiently. For example, you don’t waste time or energy on deciding whether to take a left or right on your familiar route to work. As the route becomes a habit, you follow it automatically without having to make an effort to remember it.
Good habits enhance your quality of life and make your day-to-day easier. Bad habits, however, may seem like they’re enhancing your life, but their consequences will show up sooner or later. Over time, they can become addictions that damage your health, happiness, relationships, and life.
To help you break up with your bad habits, let’s take a closer look at the behavior behind them and the steps to take to remove them from your routine.
Why Breaking a Bad Habit Seems Hard and Unsuccessful
Habits form from repetition and practice. The same principle applies for breaking them. It takes time and conscious efforts to break bad habits, which can make the task seem challenging.
You can make breaking bad habits easier by understanding how a habit is formed. There are 3 aspects to forming a habit:
A trigger can be a feeling or conscious behavior that provokes an action. For example, hunger is a feeling that urges you to look for food to satisfy yourself.
This is the routine task you do after you experience the trigger. For example, you reach for a cupcake or the nearest processed snack every time you feel hungry (trigger).
This aspect is what makes an unhealthy habit stick. Reward is the enjoyment, pleasure, or stress relief you experience due to the behavior.
Satisfying your craving with a cupcake or other unhealthy food may give you immense pleasure in the moment. Having a strong coffee or cigarette may make you feel de-stressed. However, most actions, especially bad habits, eventually have their consequences.
A bad habit starts as a mere distraction. Over time, the reward is reinforced, and the behavior becomes a routine, causing the distraction to become a habit. A knowledge of how bad habits form enables you to break the cycle before it becomes hard to control.
Breaking even the smallest bad habits can have a huge impact and when you improve yourself in one area, it can create positive change in another.
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Here are some ways to be free of the frustrating bad habits you may have:
Decide on the Bad Habit You Want to Break
Identifying the bad habit or habits you want to break is the first step to getting clarity on your goal. Clarity is important to make your goal specific.
For example, late-night binging may be your bad habit. When you define this as the bad habit you would like to break, you set a goal. But it’s still generic. The goal becomes more realistic when you say, “I would like to stop eating sweets and processed foods after 8PM.”
You may want to break some of these most common bad habits:
- Checking your social media feeds frequently
- Online gaming
- Excessive selfie-snapping
- Binge watching television
- Biting nails when stressed
- Stress eating
- Heavy smoking
- Excessive consuming coffee or energy drinks
- Excessive swearing
- Excessive screen time before bed
Become Aware of the Triggers
Since triggers are the starting point of habit formation, identifying your triggers is the first step toward breaking them. Focus on your behaviors to identify the trigger.
If you are looking to break your habit of procrastination, then find out when you tend to procrastinate. Is it during a big project? Is it when you feel you have too much to do?
What do you do when you procrastinate? Do you keep checking your social media pages as a way to delay work? Do you snack on junk food to lower your stress during such times?
Become aware of details as much as possible. Focus on factors such as:
- Do you indulge in the habit immediately after another behavior?
- Does the habit rise only at particular timings?
- Do you do it only when you are around certain people?
Understanding triggers enables you to realize the value of the reward associated with them.
Observe How You Feel After Indulging in the Behavior
Once the trigger has set off a reactive behavior, observe how you feel. For example, say you have been browsing the internet or your social media pages to delay working on a difficult project.
Once you become aware of this behavior, stop for a second, and focus on the consequences of this action. What benefit did you experience from surfing the internet?
Did the action help you relieve any stress associated with the project? Or, did it motivate you to complete the work? How do you feel about the behavior? Do you feel disappointed that you indulged in such behavior? Does the habit annoy or anger you?
Write down or make a mental note of all your observations and feelings so that you remember them better.
This awareness serves as a reminder for your brain, which has been associating the habit with enjoyable rewards. The observations will let your brain know that indulging in the habit results in undesirable consequences.
These consequences may be damaging to your health or could be preventing you from realizing your true potential.
Becoming curious about your urge to indulge in the bad habit can help break it, says Jud Brewer, a neuroscientist and addiction psychiatrist. When you are hit by the craving, practice becoming curious about the behavior.
Brewer suggests that curiosity arouses the same sensations cravings do. By indulging in curiosity, you are experiencing the same sensations without being affected by the consequences. As you meditate on these sensations of curiosity, the moments pass, and so does the craving to indulge in the habit.
Alter the Behavior
You can also try altering the behavior to put an end to the old unhealthy behavior. If, for example, stress eating is your habit, then replace junk food with healthy snack options. By doing so, you can prevent the risk of falling back on the undesired behavior when the urge kicks in.
Breaking even the smallest bad habits can have a huge impact and when you improve yourself in one area, it can create positive change in another. It may be challenging at first but with practice and the information above you can get one step closer to living your best life
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About the writer
Director of Creative Strategy
Greg is Quotacy’s Director of Creative Strategy. He has an eclectic past from working on movie scripts to creating ad campaigns for major brands. His love of creative solutions drove him to strategy, and he now uses his powers to help families protect their loved ones. Outside of work, Greg spends his time off the grid hunting, fishing, camping, biking, hiking, and walking his dogs.