Bad Habits? Here's how to break them (5 tips)

Bad Habits? Here's how to break them (5 tips)

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Everyone has habits, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. In fact, lots of us have many good habits - maybe you lay out your clothes for work the night before or automatically turn off the lights when you leave a room.

But other habits, such as biting your nails, or hitting snooze too many times, may be to your detriment.

Breaking unwanted habits can be tricky, especially if you’ve been performing in them for a long time. But understanding how habits form in the first place can ease the process.

The making of a habit

There are a few theories around how habits are formed. The idea of the 3 Rs is one of the main ones and what we will be discussing today:

  • Reminder. This is a trigger, or cue, that could be a conscious behaviour, such as flushing the toilet, or a feeling, such as nervousness.
  • Routine. This is the behaviour associated with the trigger. Flushing the toilet cause you to wash your hands, while feeling nervous triggers biting your nails. Doing something over and over can make the behaviour routine.
  • Reward. The reward associated with a behaviour also helps make a habit last. If you do something that causes enjoyment or relieves distress, the pleasurable release of dopamine in your brain can make you want to do it again.

With this particular theory in mind, we have a few helpful tips to help you break your negative habits.

5 Tips To Break Bad Habits

Tip 1: Identify Your Triggers

Triggers are the first step in developing a habit. Identifying the triggers behind your negative habitual behaviours is the first step in moving past them. Spend a few days tracking your habit to see whether it follows any patterns.

Note things like:

  • Where does the habitual behaviour happen?
  • What time of day?
  • How do you feel when it happens?
  • Are other people involved?
  • Does it happen right after something else?

For example, say you want to stop staying up late. After a few days of tracking your behaviour, you may realise you tend to stay up later if you start watching TV.

But you go to bed earlier if you read or take a walk. If you are removing the trigger — watching TV — by stopping watching TV by 9pm it makes it harder to carry out the routine of staying up too late.

Tip 2: Focus on why you want to change

Why do you want to break or change a certain habit? It may be easier to change your behaviour when the change you want to make is valuable or beneficial to you.

Take a few minutes to consider why you want to break the habit and any benefits you see resulting from the change and write it down. Keep this list somewhere easy to see as this can keep the change you want to make fresh in your mind. If you do happen to fall back into the habit, the list reminds you why you want to keep trying.

Tip 3: Change your environment

Your surroundings can sometimes have a big impact on your habits. Maybe you’re trying to break the habit of ordering food because it’s costing you too much money. But whenever you’re in the kitchen, you see the takeaway menus hanging on your fridge. You could try replacing the menu with printouts of easy recipes you know you’ll enjoy.

Tip 4: Leave yourself reminders

Using stickers, sticky notes, or other visual reminders wherever the habit behaviour happens can help you rethink the action when something triggers you.

For example, if you want to break the habit of drinking soft drinks with every meal. Leaving stickers on your refrigerator that you’ll see when you go to reach for a bottle can help break the habit. You can also use a smartphone reminder. Set your alarm and add a motivating note to yourself, such as “Time to turn off the TV! :)” or “After-dinner walk — remember how good it feels!”

Tip 5: Replace the habit with a different one

You might have an easier time breaking a habit if you replace the unwanted behaviour with a new behaviour, instead of simply trying to stop the unwanted behaviour.

Say you want to stop reaching for lollies when you’re hungry at work. If you simply try to avoid the lolly jar, you might fall back into the habit when you can’t resist hunger. But bringing in some healthy snacks such as dried fruit and nuts to keep at your desk gives you another snack option.

As you repeat the new behaviour, the impulse to follow the new routine develops. Eventually, after you see rewards from the new habit — more energy and less of a sugar crash — the urge to keep doing this behaviour might outweigh the desire to pursue the old habit.

Over to you…

Remember, breaking a habit can be incredibly difficult. Start off small, give yourself time and prepare for slip ups. Make sure to acknowledge how far you’ve come, and try to give yourself rewards along the way.

Even small motivators, like words of affirmation, can boost your confidence and increase your drive to keep trying. When you focus on the progress you’ve made, you’re less likely to become discouraged or engage in negative self-talk, which can impact motivation.

Now go out and win your week!