How to Break Bad Habits
All of us have bad habits that can seem impossible to break. These behaviors become so ingrained into our systems that we become dependent on them. However, it is possible to break these bad habits if you take the proper steps.
Why We Have Bad Habits
Before we can break bad habits, we must understand why we have them. Bad habits can be conscious or unconscious behaviors we indulge in, even though we know we should not. These behaviors are usually coping mechanisms for stress or solutions for boredom. While they may sometimes start out innocently, we eventually use the behavior as positive and negative reinforcements to explain the formed habit.
Biting our nails is an example of an unconscious behavior, one we indulge in during stressful or boring situations to cope, without realizing it. Drinking and overeating are bad habits as well, which are somewhat conscious. These habits sometimes begin by allowing ourselves to believe these will remedy our stress.
We enjoy eating and it makes us feel good, so why would it not help us feel better when we are stressed or sad? It then becomes unhealthy because even though we are consciously indulging in these habits, we cannot stop ourselves and that is what makes it a bad habit.
Why We Have Trouble Breaking Them
What begins as a simple activity turns into a coping mechanism, and eventually becomes dangerous. Most of your bad habits can put you in a situation much worse than the previous situation you were coping with.
Anything we do habitually is hard to end but it is not impossible. The problem is, we usually tend to go at it the wrong way. Restraining yourself is not going to work. Our cognitive control, the part of the brain that wants to terminate the habit, shuts off during stressful situations which is not helpful since that is when we usually indulge in our bad habits. Wanting to break the habit is, of course, an important step to breaking it, however it takes more than that.
Figure Out What Triggers It
The first step to breaking a bad habit is to figure out what triggers it. You have to become conscious of more than what bad habit you are indulging in, you also have to understand why you are doing it and acknowledging this is the first step to truly breaking it.
Become curious as to what triggers the habit, as well as if you enjoy the activity itself. There is a very good chance that the activity you use to cope with stress is not actually an activity you enjoy, and also does not help you out. It may seem to calm your stress at the time, but when you take a step back, you will realize that it does not.
You must become disenchanted with the habit. For example, not wanting to smoke is a cognitive approach, but thinking that smoking is disgusting, and that you have falsely convinced yourself it remedies your stress is really the first step to recovery. Every time you feel like indulging, writing it down in a log can help you become aware, and you will easily be able to see what causes it, and how often you indulge.
Do not rush the process. Of course, you want to be rid of the bad habit as quick as possible, but rushing a solution is pointless. Make sure you are fully aware of why you want to break the habit, and that it actually does not help.
Replace the Habit
The second step to breaking the habit is to replace it. You cannot avoid stressful situations, and avoiding the trigger to your habit is not always possible. Even if you could, avoiding the trigger is not a helpful or permanent way to break a bad habit.
Once you become aware of what triggers it, and become disenchanted with the behavior, you can work on finding a healthier approach to coping. However, this is also something that cannot be rushed.
There is no point in temporarily replacing a bad habit as you will most likely relapse. Create a new habit, and make it a healthy one. Once it has fully replaced your old behavior, you will have officially broken your habit.
Replacing a Stress-Induced Habit
Many turn to meditation to cope with stress. This is because meditation can be done anywhere and easily, and will help your brain to be at peace. Focusing on your breaths by counting them will help you channel your thoughts on to something other than the situation that is affecting you. There are also several incredibly useful mobile applications such as Headspace and Calm which can help you meditate in the comfort of your own home.
Replacing a Boredom-Induced Habit
One of the most effective ways of replacing a bad habit is to find a new hobby or start doing something that you have always wanted to do. The best way to combat a bad habit you indulge in due to boredom, is to either learn or distract yourself through a healthy activity, like sports for example. Like meditation, sporting activities cause your mind to be silent, and helps you not to think.
Whether it is working out, yoga, or a team sport, replace your bad habit with a healthy one for your body. Not only will this help break your old habit, you will be creating a good one. While your new habit can be something that will tire you out such as playing a sport, it does not have to be. If every time you are bored, and you decide to watch television mindlessly, maybe just focus on the content of what you are watching.
Replace the bad reality television shows with documentaries, and use this time to learn about an interesting subject. Just by simply replacing what you are watching, you will be making the time spent on the couch worthwhile. Replacing a habit does not have to be difficult, just try and find a healthy habit, hobby or passion to fill your time.
In conclusion, breaking bad habits is not easy but at the same time, it is not impossible. You must become conscious of your habit, become aware of the triggers, and replace the behavior. Eventually, maybe without even realizing it, your bad or unhealthy habits will be broken.