5 Easy Steps to Breaking Bad Habits
Why It’s Important to Break the Habit Loop
Breaking bad habits proves to be challenging for almost everybody. The human brain runs on autopilot and most of the time we don’t know we are doing something until we are doing it.
Our minds have become accustomed to doing something in a specific way. It can be hard to break that cycle.
What are bad habits? What are good habits? How can we break these bad habits and/or manage them healthily and productively? How can we change these bad habits and make them into good habits?
Without further delay, let’s dive in.
What is a Bad Habit?
A bad habit is a pattern of negative behavior. Usually due to the loss of self-control. Typically, what makes a bad habit so appealing in the first place is that “good feeling” signal it releases to your brain, called dopamine.
Some examples of bad habits include but are not limited to procrastination, overeating/stress eating, skipping meals, nail-biting, gossiping, excessive drinking, and even smoking.
How Do Bad Habits Form?
There are a few reasons as to what is causing your bad habits. The most common reasons are stress, anxiety, and boredom.
Journalist, and author of The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg, explains how every habit starts with a psychological pattern called the “habit loop”.
The “habit loop” consists of 3 different components.
1. The cue
The reason or the trigger behind the habit in the first place. The cue is usually due to the location, time, current emotional state, the people surrounding you, and/or your last action.
2. The routine
The pattern of your everyday life that subconsciously turns into a habit. If you are used to doing something a specific way during a specific point in time, chances are you’ll continue the same routine.
3. The reward
That “feel good” signal, aka the dopamine, that’s released into your brain acts as a rewards system. It tells your brain the action performed made you feel good therefore you should continue to do that action.
Steps to Breaking Bad Habits
Before you begin to break these bad habits, ask yourself these questions.
- When do they usually happen?
- How often do they happen?
- Who are you with?
- What triggers them?
Step 1- Be aware of your bad habits.
A bad habit is a form of addiction. To quit any addiction, the first step is always to acknowledge and admit that you have a problem.
You need to understand what your bad habits are if you want to break them. Do you bite your nails often? Do you tend to overeat? Do you procrastinate on important assignments? Whatever your bad habits are, you need to acknowledge them.
Step 2- Write down your bad habits.
Now that you’ve acknowledged and admitted to yourself that you do have bad habits, now it’s time to take action. By writing down your bad habits you can see in front of you what needs to be changed.
Step 3- Know your triggers.
Understand what causes these bad habits. For example, being surrounded by distractions while working on that important assignment could cause you to procrastinate. Having an unorganized and hectic day could cause you to forget to eat.
Step 4- Avoid these triggers
Once you understand what your triggers are, you can work to avoid them. Such as limiting the number of distractions while you work. Or planning out your day-to-day schedule and setting a specific time aside for lunch and dinner.
Step 5- Substituting your bad habits
Now let’s look at the bad habits that aren’t easily fixable by avoiding the triggers. Such as biting your nails or stress eating.
Stress, in general, is unavoidable regardless of how planned out your day is. The main thing to look at is how you respond to that stress. By giving in to your bad habits, you are telling your brain that these habits make you feel good by relieving your stress. As harmless as some of these habits can be, a lot of them that can be physically, mentally, and emotionally damaging.
That’s when you substitute the bad habits and turn them into good habits.
In step 2, we talked about writing down your bad habits. Now, on the same paper, write healthy alternatives to those bad habits.
For example, instead of biting your nails maybe get a carrot stick and chew on that instead. Or if you feel the need to stress eat, make sure your kitchen is filled with healthy snacks to munch on instead of junk food.
Everybody has at least one bad habit they do regularly. Some bad habits are harder to avoid than others, especially if it’s due to stress. The key is how you choose to respond to that stress. The human mind knows what our bodies tell it, and our bodies are telling it that these habits make us feel good, therefore they are good.
That “feel good” signal our brains receive is called dopamine and that’s also the cause of addiction. By acknowledging your bad habits, writing your bad habits down, understanding your triggers, avoiding your triggers, and then finally substituting your bad habits for good habits, you are working to rewire your brain.
Once you break the cycle of the “habit loop”, you’ll be able to find healthy alternatives to these bad habits that still offer the same good feeling and provide your brain with a healthy dose of dopamine.
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