Many bad habits come about as a means of dealing with situations

How to Break Bad Habits

Habits run our daily lives. Pretty much everything you do is based on a habit you’ve developed at some point in your life. Some habits are helpful, while others can also work against you. Even worse – there are a few “bad habits” that can have a negative, long-term impact on your capacity to live a fulfilling life. Smoking. Hoarding. Eating junk food. Drinking too much alcohol. Even spending too much time on the Internet. We all have those bad habits we’d like to break.

Fortunately, it is possible to eliminate a negative routine – all you need is a plan of action. Failure in the past doesn’t mean you’ll fail in the future.  Usually, it’s a direct result of not having a solid strategy for breaking this bad habit.

We all have a bad habit or two we could stand to lose, but habits are hard to break. Whether your bad habit is procrastinating, overspending, swearing, or any other one you want to change, here are ten tips to break free of negative behaviour patterns.

  1. Remind your future self about avoiding bad habits
  2. Understand what triggers your bad habits
  3. Go slow and Make tiny changes
  4. Make a list to break bad habits
  5. Find yourself for each offence
  6. Practice mindfulness
  7. Change your environment 
  8. Coach yourself out of bad habits
  9. Do a review when you have a bad habit relapse
  10. Train yourself to think differently about your bad habits
  11. Spend a month thinking about your habit before taking action

Habit-making is simply what our brains do. They’re designed to create neural pathways that provide the best results. So, when a desire triggers a reaction that in turn satisfies that initial urge, the brain takes note. The next time that desire arises, the brain calls up the circuitry that got the job done before. Replace bad habits with good ones. Just remember to keep your plan as simple as possible. This flowchart can help you reboot your habit and create the If-Then plan.

Commit to a goal. Although it may seem obvious, it is important to understand that the first step in breaking a bad habit is developing a true desire for and committing to changing your life.

  • Many people embark on the path of breaking a habit without being certain that they want to change. Breaking habits is a difficult task, so if you aren’t fully committed to it you are likely to fail.

Examine the context of your habit. To determine the most effective way to break a habit, it will be helpful to determine the situational and emotional context that triggers the habit. This can help you understand what “rewards” your brain is looking for. Having this understanding will allow you to develop other, healthier means of achieving the same rewards that the bad habit provides.

  • Many bad habits come about as a means of dealing with situations that cause stress or boredom.
  • For example, for many people, smoking provides relief from stress. Procrastination temporarily provides free time to engage in more fun activities.
  • When you feel the urge to perform your habitual behaviour, make a note of it. Often, habits have become so ingrained that we don’t even notice why we do them. Developing that awareness will help you pinpoint what is going on to prompt your habit.
  • When you make your note, jot down what was going on at the time. For example, if you’re a nail-biter, note whenever you feel the impulse to bite your nails. Take a few notes about how you’re feeling, what has been going on during the day, where you are, and what you were thinking.

Visualize success. In your mind, repeatedly practice breaking the habit by imagining scenarios in which you engage in desired behaviours rather than the bad habit. Imagine situations in which you would be tempted to engage in undesired behaviour and choose a better option. This helps reinforce positive behaviour patterns.

  • For example, if your goal is to eat less junk food, imagine yourself in your kitchen preparing a healthy meal, and sitting down to eat it.
  • Some people find it helpful to write down “scripts” of their desired behaviour and read them every day.

Stay kind to yourself. Telling yourself you can’t do something is a bad cognitive habit that will reinforce your belief that you can’t. Remember: being harsh on yourself for having a hard time or lapsing isn’t helpful to you, and it can make bad habits worse.

  • If you notice that you’re criticizing yourself, remember that things that seem contradictory can coexist. For example, imagine that you want to break the habit of eating junk food, but you “gave in” and had a bag of chips with lunch. It could be easy to beat yourself up for this. However, being kind to yourself acknowledges your lapse and recognizes that this isn’t a failure. You don’t have to continue giving in because you gave in once.
  • Try adding to your statements and creating positive plans for the next time you face a challenge. For example: “I had that bag of chips with lunch. I’m upset with myself for that, and I can help myself by packing snacks to take to work so the vending machines don’t tempt me.”
  • You can also add the word “but” and follow it up with a positive statement, e.g. “I totally screwed up, BUT everybody makes mistakes sometimes.

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