Do you bite your nails? Chew on your hair? Suck your thumb? Pick your lips? Regardless of your particular habit, or how deeply ingrained it is, the process of breaking it will be similar. With persistence and the right mindset, it’s possible to break your bad habits, and these instructions help you through the process of doing so.
1. Commit to a goal. Although it may seem obvious, it is important to understand that the first step in breaking a bad habit developing a true desire for and commitment to changing your life.
- Many people embark on the path of breaking a habit without being certain that they really want to change. Breaking habits is a difficult task, so if you aren’t fully committed to it you are likely to fail.
2.Understand your habit. Most habitual behaviors are patterns that have evolved because they have been rewarded in some way. They make it easier to perform a common task, or to deal with various emotional states.
- A “habit loop” forms from a cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to start the habitual behavior. The brain processes a “reward” from this behavior, in the form of neuro chemicals, that reinforces the habit loop.Interrupting the behavior part of this loop is how to break a habit.
3. Examine the context of your habit. To determine the most effective way to break a habit, it will be helpful to determine the situational and emotional context that triggers the habit. This can help you understand what “rewards” your brain is looking for.Having this understanding will allow you to develop other, healthier means of achieving the same rewards that the bad habit provided.
- Many bad habits come about as a means of dealing with situations that cause stress or boredom.
- For example, for many people smoking provides a relief from stress. Procrastination temporarily provides free time to engage in more fun activities.
- When you feel the urge to perform your habitual behavior, make a note of it. Often, habits have become so ingrained that we don’t even notice why we do them. Developing that awareness will help you pinpoint what is going on to prompt your habit.
- When you make your note, jot down what was going on at the time. For example, if you’re a nail-biter, note whenever you feel the impulse to bite your nails. Take a few notes about how you’re feeling, what has been going on during the day, where you are, and what you were thinking.
4. Make a plan. Once you understand the situation that triggers your habit and the reward you receive for engaging in the undesirable behavior, you can make a plan that involves goals for behavior change and strategies for minimizing habit triggers.
- Studies show that having a clear, specific plan greatly increases your chances of success in breaking habit. It helps break down unwanted behaviors and also helps create new patterns of action.
- Plan to make mistakes. Do not make a plan that will be deemed a failure as a result of a single slip-up. Most people give in to the temptation of old habits at some point while trying to break them. If you accept this in advance, you will be less likely to let negative thinking defeat the whole enterprise of breaking the habit.
5. Practice mindfulness. Increasing your mindfulness in daily life can help you become aware of your actions, rather than functioning on “autopilot.” Mindfulness focuses on being aware of what you are experiencing in the moment, and experiencing it without avoidance or judgment. With practice, mindfulness can become a healthy habit that can counteract the bad habits you want to avoid.
- Mindfulness trains your brain to respond to situations differently. It can actually “reprogram” the way you respond to situations . It can help give you time before you react to something, and decrease your tendency toward “automatic thoughts,” which arise in response to a situation.
- Be conscious of when you are tempted to give in to bad habits. What are the situations that lead to the undesired behavior? What are the sensations in your body or thoughts in your mind that promote the undesired behavior? Understanding them without judging yourself will help you resist the behavior.