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.
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?
There are some things that can be done to help you transition toward good habits and away from bad ones.
Write It Down
Writing it down allows you to acknowledge what needs to be changed. It can also serve as a reminder of what you want to change.
On top of acknowledging the habit, make a mark every time you catch yourself doing it throughout the day so you can see your progress.
Remember you aren’t changing who you are — you are going back to who you were.
Accountability Is Key
Trying to hold yourself accountable only to yourself is a difficult task. If you are the only person that knows you are trying to overcome a bad habit, it becomes easy to allow yourself to slip.
Try and find a friend that wants to change too, or maybe just someone that can help you keep yourself in check.
Set Time Restrictions
You will be more likely to make a change if you have deadlines. If you want to stop watching TV and start working out, don't tell yourself you’ll start tomorrow or next week. This will only delay progress.
Set a time frame and apply yourself.
Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself
People make mistakes. That’s human nature. Don’t be too hard on yourself, give yourself a break and allow a few slip-ups.
If you revert back to an old habit once, that doesn’t mean all of your effort was for nothing. Keep trying, and get back on track.
Give Yourself a Pat On the Back
Changing your routine can be hard. If you know that you are following your goal and making progress, reward yourself. Or set a new goal for the future and reward yourself when you reach that goal.
Toss Out the Things That Used to Tempt You
If you know that your bad habit is eating junk food, then don’t stock your cabinets with cookies and potato chips. If you have a habit of checking your cell phone too much, have a friend change your lock code for a few hours, or leave the house and leave your phone at home.
Getting rid of temptation helps get rid of the desire.
Make It Unlikable
If eliminating the temptation isn't enough, then change the outcome. If you bite your nails when you are stressed out, make it unpleasant, put something foul tasting on your fingers so you don’t want to.
If you do something with your body, like playing with your hair or tapping your foot, put a rubber band around your wrist and snap yourself when you start doing it.
If the reward doesn’t have the same outcome that it used to, you won’t get the same pleasant feeling from it.
Overall, keep in mind that habits are hard to change. They are ingrained over time — t hat’s why they are habits. Breaking the habit won’t happen in a day and it may be hard, but it can be done.
Charles Duhigg. The Power of Habit. Retrieved March 23,2015.
Amazon. The Power of Habit: why we do what we do in life and business. Retrieved March 23, 2015.
University College London. How long does it take to form a habit? Retrieved March 23,2015.
European Journal of Social Psychology. How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world. Retrieved March 23,2015.
Reviewed March 24, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith