How to break bad habits

Habits are deeply-rooted patterns of behaviours in our daily life, some of which  we hardly ever think about.  Good habits run the gamut of health and fitness habits, personal growth habits, and habits that help us sustain satisfactory relationships.  They add value and purpose to our goals : to be the person we want to be and  to do the things that make us happy.  Conversely, bad habits hinder us from achieving our goals and the battle continues to wage war in our minds :

“I know that that’s not good for me.  I want to change. But I can’t”. 

Perhaps understanding a little more about bad habits can help us work on how to overcome them. 

How Habits Evolve

Experts refer to a 3-step pattern on how habits evolve

(1) cue

(2) action/behaviour and

(3) reward.

For example : we see a piece of chocolate cake, we eat it, it tastes good and we feel good : cue/trigger, behaviour, reward. This context dependent memory causes us to repeat the process the next time we want the reward.  If the rewards  are beneficial – such as  the habit of going for that run once the alarm rings at six am –  that is all well and good.  With bad habits – such as eating too many chocolate cakes – however, the rewards may not be  good for us in the long run.  Continuing these bad habits as routine causes our brain to go into auto mode and each time we want to feel good – regardless the cue – we would dive straight into the same reward ie the chocolate cake.  If we continue such routines, our brain becomes so entrenched so much so that it stops intelligently processing or makes a cognitive choice. 

Mindfulness

One strategy to let go of bad habits is mindfulness – right from the start when the cues or triggers come.  For example : biting nails.  Be mindful about the times you bite your nails.  When, where, and why do you bite your nails?   Feeling bored, nervous?  Next,  find a healthier substitute the next time you are bored or nervous.   Perhaps consider putting your hands in your pocket,  clasping your hands together, chewing gum, or play with a ball or elastic band.  Be mindful of the rewards too.  When your cues are emotional ones such as frustration or stress,  what’s your responding behaviours for gratification? 

 

Bad habits such shouting, bingeing (such as chocolate cakes) or  drinking. Do these help or hurt your goals? Would a healthier responding behaviour (good habit) be more effective? 

Mindfulness helps us to be aware and curious of why we do what we do,  and to be able to see what is generally going on inside ourselves:  a journey that takes time and courage. However understanding  that  bad habits are indeed instant gratifications that stifle our long term goals, would be a strong  motivator to help us change and let go of  bad habits. 

Self motivation through talk therapy is a good approach to breaking bad habits. However where bad habits have escalated to affect the quality of life and have grossly  tipped the scales to an unhealthy imbalance, seeking professional help through counselling may be considered.  Contact www.evolvetonewbeginnings.wordpress.com for more information.

 

Contributing Author: Eunice Gan