The Science Behind Bad Habits And How To Break Them
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with habits; everyone has them. Some are quite helpful, such as when you automatically switch off the lights when you leave a room or set out your clothing the night before work.
However, other habits — like chewing your nails, consuming caffeine too late in the day, or repeatedly pressing the snooze button — might not be as advantageous.
Bad habits can be difficult to stop, especially if you've been doing them for a while. But a better grasp of how habits begin helps make the process easier.
THE 3R’S OF HABIT FORMATION
Reminder. This is a trigger or cue, and it could be a conscious action like flushing the toilet, or it might be a sensation like anxiety.
Routine. This is the action that the trigger is linked to. While nervousness prompts you to bite your nails, flushing the toilet signals that it's time to wash your hands. Routine behaviour can develop through repeated actions.
Reward. A behaviour's related reward also aids in the development of habits. When you do something that makes you happy or makes you feel better, your brain releases dopamine, making you want to do it again.
This turns into a cycle and hence, the habits are reinforced. The cycle makes sense given that the brain is difficult to modify. An undesirable habit can, however, be broken. It requires determination, some white-knuckling, and powerful behaviour change strategies. Understanding what goes on in our minds, as well as our motives and self-talk can be extremely helpful in cutting out negative or unhelpful habits.
WAYS TO BREAK A BAD HABIT
Identify your “Reminder”; your trigger
Keep in mind that finding triggers is the first step in creating a habit. The first step in overcoming your repetitive habits is to recognize the triggers that lead to them.
For a few days, keep track of your habit to see if it exhibits any trends.
Let's assume you want to cut back on staying up late. After observing your behaviour for a few days, you notice that if you start watching TV or talking to friends after supper, you tend to stay up later. However, if you read or go for a stroll, you can sleep early. Hence, on weeknights, you resolve to quit watching TV and switch off your phone by nine o'clock. It becomes more difficult to continue the habit of staying up late when the trigger is removed.
Identify the reason for wanting to change
Why do you wish to modify or quit a certain habit? According to research, it can be simpler to alter your behaviour if the change is advantageous or desirable to you.
Think about your motivation for changing the behaviour and any advantages you anticipate coming from the change. You might be able to come up with a few more by listing the reasons that haven't even occurred to you yet. Seeing the list can help you remember the change you're attempting to implement. Your list serves as a reminder if you do chance to relapse into the behaviour.
Replace the habit with a “good” one
If you try to replace the undesirable activity with a new behaviour rather than just trying to cease the undesirable behaviour, you could find it easier to break the habit.
Let's say you want to quit eating candy at work when you're hungry. If all you do is an attempt to stay away from the candy bowl, you can relapse if you can't control your appetite. However, you have another snack choice if you bring in some dry fruits and nuts to keep at your desk. The want to continue the new pattern emerges as you practice replacing the old behaviour with the new behaviour. Once you start reaping the benefits of your new habit, the drive to continue engaging in it will eventually exceed the motivation to maintain your previous behaviour.
Change the all-or-nothing mindset
When attempting to change a habit, accepting that you will definitely make a few mistakes is one thing; coming up with a plan to implement when your relapse is quite another. Another issue is preventing disappointment and failure when you do make a mistake.
Perhaps you've been attempting to stop smoking and have been successful three days in a row. On the fourth day, you have a cigarette and then feel bad the rest of the night. However, pay more attention to your accomplishments than your shortcomings. Keep in mind that you have tomorrow to choose differently.
Motivate yourself with small rewards for your successes
Always keep in mind how difficult it is to quit a habit. Make sure to recognize your progress and attempt to reward yourself along the road. You can improve your confidence and enhance your motivation to keep trying with even tiny motivators, like reminding yourself how well you're doing.
When you concentrate on your accomplishments, you're less inclined to give up or talk to yourself negatively, both of which might undermine your motivation.
Finally, give it time
It's a widely held misconception that it takes 21 days to form or break a habit. But from where does that number come? It probably comes from a study of persons who underwent cosmetic surgery. Within three weeks, the majority of them had gotten used to their new appearance. That differs significantly from deliberately trying to break bad behaviour. Realistically, according to specialists, it takes at least 10 weeks (or 2 to 3 months) to stop an undesirable event. Of course, certain behaviours may be harder to quit than others.
The length of time needed to break a habit varies on a number of factors. It might be beneficial to reevaluate your strategy if a few weeks have gone by and you don't feel like much progress has been achieved. However, you might also think about consulting a mental health expert, particularly if your bad habits are particularly distressing or firmly rooted in your behaviour.