6+1 steps to take when you want to get rid of an addiction

The new year starts, this is the time for resolutions and revolutions. If you are about to quit a bad habit from 2016, here are some tricks that you can use in order to be successful.

~1. Collect (all of) the triggers

First of all, you need to be aware what are those factors that trigger you to complete a bad habit. Maybe it is enough to see chocolate bars in a supermarket and you already feel the drive to buy one. Maybe you only get triggered by sweets when someone offers you them. It can be also a part of the day (evening) or a situation (going out, feeling stressed), that make you feel smoke a cigarette, or comfort yourself with snacks.

Take a sheet of paper and jot down all the triggers you have, try to be as specific as you can. Try to involve not just environmental things but also emotional triggers (sadness, carpe diem… etc.) Be aware that we often use sweets and other drugs to comfort or the reward ourselves. Don’t forget about this when you create your list.

~2. Create an action plan

Once you are aware of the triggers, you can think about how to act when you meet them. People who have an action plan for avoiding the temptation are more successful than those who do not have any plan beforehand. Write down the rules. (“When my friend asks me if I want to smoke a cigarette, I tell them that I decided to quit and briefly explain them why…”)

~3. Bad habit- new habit

The best if you not just discipline yourself not to do the bad habit (“when I see a delicious muffin in the café, I do not buy it”) but direct yourself to a new action (“when I see a delicious muffin in the café, I will think about other, healthier options”). And if you want to have a super secure action plan you may replace the old habit with a new one. (“When I see a delicious muffin in the café, instead of buying it, I drink a café latte/eat a salad…etc.”)

~4. What kind of new habit should I find out?

Smokers sometimes pick up chewing gum as a new habit, or snacking. The problem with these habits, that they are not healthy and can become (snacks, sweets) just a new unhealthy addiction. On the other hand, replace the habit with a similar action is a good technique.

So we can replace the unhealthy food/drink with healthy ones. I also recommend to replace addictions with an activity that is not about consuming but about sharing: communication. It can sound strange, but instead of drink another slip of wine or smoke another cigarette, try to say something that really matters for you. Or sing a song. These activities can provide the same satisfaction, but in a constructive way.

~5. Make the new (and healthy) habit rewarding

When you consume the thing that you are addicted to, it activates your brain’s pleasure circuit in a way that it lights up your reward pathways. Maybe you feel guilty after, but first you feel rewarded. So when you replace cigarette/sugar/alcohol with something else, it should be something rewarding, otherwise it won’t work.

The difficulty is with this, that sometimes healthy habits doesn’t feel that rewarding- we have to make them to be like that. How? For example, you reward yourself after accomplishing the habit. “I brushed my teeth instead of smoking a cigarette. I am awesome!” It sounds silly, but this works as magic. You have to reward yourself every single time when you do the right habit instead of the old one. It will become automatic after a while.

~6. Make the new habit addictive

I can recommend to watch Zoe Chance’s Ted talk about “How to make a behavior addictive” or Tony Robbins’s article about “The 6 human needs”. You can discover why did you get addicted to a bad habit, and how can you make your new habit more desirable for yourself.

As a summary, the 6 (most important) drives we need to fulfill are:

  • Significance- the desire that we are important. Your ego.(“I am awesome”)
  • Security/certainty (“I know how salads usually taste like.”)
  • Uncertainty/variety (Make sure you can make many different kind of salads, otherwise it will be boring.)
  • Connection (“If I eat low calorie food, I will be more confident about my body and that helps me to be more social, or find a partner…etc.”)
  • Growth (“If I eat this I become healthier, and better looking/more attractive.”)
  • Contribution

+1 Switch to cognitive mode

This technique is very powerful but it needs to be practiced a lot. Researches have showed that if you face with something very attractive and you start to look at that from not an emotional but a cognitive point of view, you can resist much more easily. For example, when you face with a cigarette, instead of smoking it, you look at the material itself and think about the design. Or when you look at a cake, think about how it was made and formed. I am sure that imagining a bunch of sugar, flour, and an apple won’t be as attractive as an apple pie.