Bad habits can be a burden for a lot of people. Whether you're hooked on nail biting, smoking, unhealthy eating, shopping, checking your phone, or any number of things, you are not alone.
The good news is bad habits are learned behaviors, so they can be changed. The bad news is they are hard to break.
According to Phillippa Lally and colleagues who conducted a study at the University College London (UCL), it takes an average of 66 days to develop a habit.
Lally and colleagues determined that repetition of behaviors creates a mental connection between what they call the cue (situation), and the behavior (action).
So when people confront a certain situation, and an action automatically follows. When this happens often enough, a habit is formed.
But even though it's hard to change a habit, it is not impossible.
Identifying the Routine
According to Charles Duhigg, author of "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business," getting rid of a bad habit starts by identifying the routine.
According to Duhigg, identifying the routine is the first step towards finding the bad habit, what causes it, and how to change it.
Identifying the routine includes deciphering your surroundings by location, time, emotional state, people, and immediate action that proceeds.
Duhigg says to ask yourself:
- Where are you?
- What time is it?
- How do you feel?
- Is anyone near you?
- What brought the urge on?
He says our brains view habits like a formula — when we see the cue it sparks the routine and leads us to want the reward.
Rewards within a habit don’t necessarily have to be the habit.
If you are a smoker it’s possible that the smoking of the cigarette isn’t the reward, it could be something else, such as socializing while you smoke or walking outside.
So how do you break the habit once you determine what the reward is?