3 Steps to Break Bad Habits Successfully
There are so many bad habits that people want to break. Maybe you are a smoker, perhaps you bite your nails, or you drink too much soda. However, the process of leaving your comfort zone filled with pleasurable habits is extremely difficult. Learn how creating habits works and replace the old bad ones with the right habits for you!
Habits exist as a shortcut for our brains this way it saves energy to focus on what is important. Our minds are simply evolutionally designed to find the fastest solution possible. If our brain notices that we repeat certain behavior, a habit is created that allows us to act on autopilot.
Bad habits are mostly based on the expectation of a reward. It’s our brain that motivates us to get this reward by producing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. The dopamine circuit mechanism has been created by nature as a survival tool. If we feel good after doing something, our brain releases dopamine which in return motivates us to do it again. This can happen in response to eating, smoking, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, doing sports, or by opening an email and scrolling social media.
How to Quit Bad Habits
Understanding your existing habits is less intimidating than it may seem. According to Charles Duhigg, all habits follow the same loop that has three parts:
1. Cue – it’s a feeling, time or a place that triggers your habit (e. g. lying in bed with your phone)
2. Routine – the habit itself (scrolling social media)
3. Reward – fulfilling your desire (socializing and social status)
If you would like to get on the correct path and create a new healthier habit, you need to identify your motivation (Reward) and your bad habit (Routine) by becoming aware of what happens in your mind and your surroundings right before you’re about to repeat your bad habit.
1. Isolate the Cue
Identifying what triggers your bad habit, the Cue, is the first step to overcome it.Let’s look at the example with scrolling social media before going to sleep. Your bed or sleep isn’t the real cause of your bad habit, but your phone can be. Before going to bed, put your phone out of your reach. By simply modifying your environment, you can prevent the whole routine from happening.
How do you eliminate the cues?
The best way to quit a bad habit is to change something in your environment. Therefore, it’s crucial to be aware of your surroundings and record anything that happens around you and your thought process leading up to the undesired behavior. If you want to quit eating cakes, don’t go into your favorite café. If you want to be more productive at work, reorganize your table.
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2. Find a healthy alternative
As you soon as you create a new habit, it will instinctively become a part of your routine. Your brain recognizes the cue and wants the reward. It’s not enough to say that you want to stop spending your money at bars. Instead of quitting that habit – which rarely works – create a new one so that your brain can replace your old routine with something else. How? The trick is to set up a routine that gives you the same if not better instant reward.
3. Set Positive Goals
When you decide to quit a bad habit, usually, your phrase it rather negatively by saying that you want to stop biting our nails or you want to quit snacking at night. Our brain doesn’t like negative framing such as I will stop eating junk food. Our brain responds better to positive goals. According to psychologists, trying to achieve a goal set with a negative approach is connected to feeling of inadequacy, low self-esteem and being less satisfied with the progress. These emotions discourage us from action. Whereas it’s much easier to get excited about reaching a positive goal which in return can help you achieve it.
How to think more positively?
You know that smoking is bad for you and overeating can lead to diabetes. Motivate yourself by focusing what you get once you stop with your bad habits. Speak to yourself more positively: “Getting a good sleep is important to me. I want to feel well and rested tomorrow.”
Bonus tips & tricks
Many people believe that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, turns out this is a myth. According to research, it takes about 10 weeks (2 to 3 months) sometimes even longer so take your time and be patient with yourself. Here are some extra tips that can help you on your journey:
- Connect your new habit with an already existing one (e. g.: meditate when you put your pj’s on)
- Identify what’s stopping you from making a change
- Start journaling to track your progress
- Embrace discomfort
- Picture yourself with the new habits and do it often
- Take care of yourself
- Take small steps – be better every day by just 1 %