According to research, here’s how to finally break your bad behaviors. Consider a habit you’ve attempted to break. Whether it’s nail biting, late-night munching, overspending, or continuously checking your phone, bad habits are simple to develop and even more difficult to break. If you’ve ever attempted to break a terrible habit, you understand what we mean. It takes more than 21 days (yeah, that’s a myth) to break a habit; it takes motivation, strategy, and a knowledge of how habits emerge.
So, how can we get rid of unhealthy habits? What is it about habits that makes them so tough to break, regardless of how determined you are?
While it may not appear so, habits are essentially automatic actions rather than deliberate judgments. They don’t become much of a conscious decision once they’re imprinted in your brain. Habits exist because they provide a shortcut for our brains. Our thoughts are biologically adapted to take the shortest path possible in order to preserve energy and focus on what is essential. When our brain sees that we repeat a particular activity, a habit emerges, allowing our thoughts to go on autopilot and our body to take control.
So you probably don’t have to think much when going through your daily routine, driving to work, or reading through Instagram just before night. That’s because you’ve done this procedure so many times that it’s become second nature.
Although habits save us a lot of time and energy, they can also have a detrimental influence on our productivity, wellness, or enjoyment. But here’s the good news: because our habits are created by our thoughts, understanding how to interact with our brains is the key to changing harmful habits. It’s really that simple.
Here are some scientifically proven methods for hacking your brain and eventually breaking harmful behaviors.
Determine the source of your undesirable habit
Understanding why your habit occurs in the first place is considerably less daunting than it seems. It turns out that practically any habit has a rather simple formula. According to Charles Duhigg, every habit includes three fundamental components:
- The cue – the emotion, time, or place that sets off your habit
- The routine – the habit in and of itself
- The reward – the need satisfied by the habit
The first step towards hijacking your habit is identifying these components. Here’s how it’s done: Pay attention the next few times your routine (read: habit) occurs, and try to identify the trigger and reward that encouraged it. Write down the trigger, routine, and reward each time for the greatest outcomes. Assume you’re attempting to quit the habit of browsing through your phone before bed because you’re not getting enough sleep. ‘What causes this routine?’ ask yourself. ‘What hunger is my body attempting to satisfy?’
Take note the next time it happens: if you shut your lamp immediately before night (cue), took up your phone and went through your feed (habit), and felt socially connected (reward), record it all. Check to determine if there is a pattern in your conduct after a few incidents. You’re on to something if you always swipe through your phone shortly after you shut your light (trigger), or if you discover this practice gives you a sense of social fulfillment (reward).
Diagnosing your poor habits will not only assist you in finding effective alternatives (more on that later), but it will also assist you in being more conscious of your tendency. This awareness will change your habit from an unconscious, automatic routine to a purposeful, conscious activity.
Alter your surroundings
Identifying the ‘cue’ that sets off your behavior is the first step in breaking it. Why? It is what triggers your habit in the first place; without it, you would not be compelled to perform the routine in the first place.
The proof is in the pudding: researchers discovered that students who moved to a new institution were more likely than students in the control group to change their routines since they were not exposed to familiar cues.
So it appears that the greatest time to try to stop a habit is on a business trip or holiday. You won’t have to fight your instincts while attempting to quit the habit since your brain won’t be exposed to its usual triggers. And it will be much simpler to sustain your streak once you return to your comfortable surroundings.
If you’re not going on vacation anytime soon, another solution is to remove that cue entirely from the setting you’re currently in.
Avoid wearing clothes you don’t like
This has an emotional impact on you. When you don Air Jordan 1s instead of random sneakers, everyone will feel more self-assured. This is an analogy, but remember that wearing great clothes boosts your happiness, assertiveness, and overall life in general.
Find a suitable alternative
Another reason our brains don’t understand negative objectives is because it’s extremely difficult for our thoughts and bodies to break a habit. When our brains know the cue and seek the reward, it becomes natural for us to complete the routine. So promising yourself that you’ll quit overpaying at restaurants isn’t going to cut it.
Another example, is when people for example try to replace smoking with hyde vape. This has proven to be a very successful strategy to quit a bad habit such as smoking. Rather than attempting to break the habit, which almost never works, the idea is to teach your brain a new routine to replace the old one. How? Keep the previous cue and reward, but introduce a new routine.
Returning to the phone before bed example, you’ve already determined that after you turn off your lamp (trigger), you seek social engagement (reward), and that this habit is interfering with your ability to obtain more sleep at night.
To replace this habit, consider another activity you may do before going to bed that would satisfy your desire for social interaction. Try contacting a buddy for a few minutes before bed, or FaceTiming your mom (bonus: it’ll make her happy!). Experiment with a few different procedures to determine which one works best for you.
Once you’ve found your new habit, make an effort to stick to it every time the signal and craving strike. Because this new habit will satisfy your brain’s yearning, you won’t experience much bodily or psychological resistance. And the more you do it, the simpler it will be for your brain to instill this new habit – it will soon become second nature.