Habits are not always bad things. Exercising regularly, brushing your teeth, even driving to work on autopilot are all good habits. But sometimes we make unhealthy habits such as turning to sugary or carb-filled food when we are sad or stressed, or taking a cigarette break to relieve pressure.
Habits take repetition and practice to form, so it also takes repetition and practice to break them. If you are ready to part ways with your bad habits, here are five strategies that can help.
Reduce Your Stress Levels
Habits such as smoking or eating too much sugar involve our brain’s dopamine system. Dopamine is a chemical that sends signals from the neurons to the brain. It is called the feel-good chemical because it transmits pleasure or happiness. Our brains contain several dopamine pathways, one of which plays a role in reward behavior.
When you engage in a pleasurable behavior, your brain releases dopamine, which rewards you with feelings of happiness. This changes the connections between neurons and the brain and is often the beginning of forming bad habits. Often, we are more likely to do the behavior we don’t want to do when you are stressed, as we seek to find a way to relieve the stress.
There are ways to address the root cause of these habits. Try to exercise regularly, get better sleep, and use stress-reduction techniques such as meditation. Even walking outside can help reduces stress. These techniques can help increase your willpower and keep you from turning to your bad habit in times of stress.
Know Your Triggers
Habits have three main parts: a cue or trigger, a routine, and a reward. Triggers are the context in which you tend to engage in the unwanted behavior. For example, if you smoke, work breaks could be a trigger. If you love desserts, it could be as simple as reviewing the dessert menu or walking by a bakery. You are more likely to act in the way you’ve acted in that setting before.
Knowing your triggers can help you learn to avoid them. Try getting rid of ashtrays that remind you of smoking or avoid bakeries.
Taking advantage of significant life changes can also help you break a habit. If you move or take a new job, you can use the new surroundings to get rid of an undesirable habit. When you are in a new situation, you don’t have the same triggers, so you have a chance to form new habits.
Replace an Undesirable Habit with a Good One
It’s easier to stop an undesirable behavior if you replace it with different behavior. The more you try to NOT do something, the more likely you are to do it. Some research has found that people who suppressed their thoughts about eating chocolate suffered from a rebound effect. They ended up eating more chocolate than those who were asked to not suppress their thoughts. Another study found the same thing among smokers who were asked to try not to think about smoking.
However, forming a new habit takes time, so don’t worry if it takes longer than you expect. According to a 2010 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it took an average of 66 days for a habit to change.
Have a GR8 Reason for Parting Ways with Your Habit
In addition to taking some time to replace an old habit with a new one, sometimes the original habit has a stronghold on you. This is where having a GR8 reason for changing your habit comes in. Intellectually, we know that our bad habits are not good for us. Tying new habits or behavior changes to a specific reason can give you more motivation to change them. For example, giving up sugar to avoid diabetes and spend more time with loved ones may be more motivating than merely “getting healthy.”
Set GR8 Goals
Rather than focusing on a general goal, such as eating fewer sweets, plan how you will implement this goal into your life. Think about ways you can avoid eating sweets, such as staying away from the snack cupboard at work, changing your route to avoid the bakery, and skipping the cookie aisle in the grocery store.
Having a plan makes it easier to avoid a behavior than having to adjust your behavior on the fly. In addition, thinking about how you are going to do something helps you believe that you can do it. Remember, a goal without a plan is just a wish.
No one said it would be easy to part ways with your bad habits. But difficult is not the same as impossible. It’s an ongoing process that doesn’t happen overnight. And you may fail at first. The important thing is to keep at it and learn from every trigger.