Posted on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2022 at 4:07 pm
Everyone has a habit they are trying to give up or add to their routine. Qualtrics performed a study in July of 2021, which discovered that “61% of Americans are trying to break unhealthy habits developed during the coronavirus pandemic.” While, some habits are useful, such as making your bed in the morning or brushing your teeth before leaving your home, other habits, such as smoking and eating unhealthily are detrimental to our well-being. Knowing this, why can’t we simply stop these bad habits? Scientists have been searching for the answers to these questions for years. Quitting a habit takes more than wanting it or being told it is necessary. Quitting requires actionable strategies and a series of steps needed to break free from the bonds of bad habits. Here are 3 actionable steps that you can take TODAY.
1. KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS
A trigger is simply the context or situation in which you tend to engage in and enjoy your particularly bad habit. For example, if your bad habit is stress eating, working late on a big project might be a trigger. Maybe you want to give up smoking but find it harder when a friend ask you enjoy a smoke break with them during work. Some want to break bad sleeping habits, but you enjoy scrolling on your phone to wind down at night causing you to stay up too late. These are all examples of situations that trigger the habit you want to break. Identifying your triggers can help you avoid them and get you one step closer to breaking your bad habit. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Where does the habitual behavior happen?
- What time of day do I partake?
- Are other people involved in my habit?
- Does it happen immediately following a particular situation or event?
2. UNDERSTAND HOW YOUR BAD HABIT MAKES YOU FEEL
Determining your trigger is only part of the equation. Focus on why your bad habit is not healthy for you. If procrastination is your bad habit, understand that surfing the net or scrolling on social media instead of completing assignments or tasks is not as satisfying as checking something off your to do list. If you stress eat, analyze how you feel immediately following the meal. What is your mental state as you puff on your fourth cigarette for the day? How do you function the morning after staying up till 3:00am? Repeatedly focusing on why the habit does not serve you can help you to form a new awareness of your habit, which will assist your brain in accurately assessing the risk/reward scenario. Simply put, training your brain to recognize the future pitfall of your bad habit can cause it to no longer crave that activity, regardless of the temporary euphoria.
3. REPLACE YOUR BAD HABIT WITH A BETTER HABIT
It’s no secret that QUITTING a habit is physically and mentally tough, some would even say impossible. Knowing your triggers and identifying how your habits make you feel are great first steps in the direction of breaking that habit. However, once you embark on this journey you will find that actually quitting your bad habit is a lot easier said than done. Therefore, the final step in the process of breaking your bad habit is to find a new habit that is more rewarding than the existing habit. Have you ever wondered why when you try to stop doing something that thing is ALL you think about? Well, we are action-oriented beings and studies have shown that the more you suppress a thought, the more likely you are to think about that thought or even revert to a previous action. A 2008 study done in Appetite (a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal) discovered that subjects that suppressed their thoughts about eating chocolate exhibited a behavioral rebound effect, where they actually consumed far more chocolate than those subjects who didn’t. If you’re a stress eater, procrastinator or smoker and you tell yourself to stop eating, procrastinating, and smoking, the only thing your brain recognizes is “eat, procrastinate and smoke.” Next time you find yourself in the panty in between meals, try drinking 3 glasses of water to suppress your appetite. When you find yourself reaching for your phone when you should be completing an assignment, grab your to do list instead and make a realistic plan. If your friend invites you on a smoke break, make a cup tea to drink while she continues her bad habit, and you make progress in breaking yours. Of course, replacing your bad habit with something that else is not easy and there will be times that you feel discouraged at your progress. Stick with it, a 2010 study done by The European Journal of Social Psychology found that it takes between 18 to 254 days for a behavior to change. If you stay diligent, one day you will look back on that bad habit and question why it was such a struggle at one point in your life.