We all have habits we’d be better off without. Whether it’s nail-biting, binge-eating, smoking, or sleeping late at night, such behaviors can jeopardize your health and keep you from achieving your goals. But despite knowing these are bad for us, we continue doing them.
If what we describe above sounds familiar, you, too, have fallen into a bad habit trap. Research shows that our brain looks for shortcuts in every action to utilize conserved energy for other functions. So, repeated motions can quickly convert into routine behaviors, enabling the mind to go on autopilot and letting the body handle the rest. These tendencies become automatic, allowing you to act on them without conscious thought. Hence, this vicious cycle never ends and fools you into thinking you can quit whenever you want.
Every person’s experiences and manners vary, so an approach that works for you may differ from the one that suits your friend. And while breaking a pattern can be challenging, it’s not impossible. Here are seven tips that can assist you in getting rid of these behaviors and getting your life back on track.
1. Figure out your triggers
Most bad habits develop because of stress or boredom. Therefore, understanding and confronting your issues is the first step in the right direction. Be aware of your actions and monitor them to see where, when, how, and who they occur with. Once you know the root cause of why you’re engaging in a particular behavior, you’ll be in a better position to control it.
For example, if you have a drinking problem, noting your pattern can help identify you tend to drink most after arguing with a loved one. You can subsequently visit a health center for inpatient services and seek professional help if the addiction becomes severe and begins to affect your health and other aspects of your life. Doing so will resolve the underlying issue and rid you of this habit.
2. Change your environment
When you know what actions or behaviors prompt you to engage in a bad habit, it’s time to eliminate these cues. One of the most efficient ways to do this is by changing the environment that constantly exposes you to these triggers. You’re less likely to perceive things as indicators or reminders of certain habits in an unfamiliar atmosphere. For example, going on a vacation and breaking away from your routine is an excellent way to free yourself of an addiction you can’t seem to get out of.
Sometimes, family, friends, or colleagues may also act as inducers of a bad habit. Be honest with yourself and once you identify these cues, make the necessary changes in your life.
3. Replace your bad habit
Humans are action-oriented beings. According to evidence-based studies, you are more likely to think of the habit you want to let go of if you try suppressing all thoughts about it. So, for instance, you want to quit smoking. Every time you have the urge to light a cigarette, you tell yourself to fight the temptation. While this may work for a while, it’s not an effective long-term solution because your brain still hears “smoke” and gets triggered by it. You could instead play music, read, or have a healthy snack whenever you feel a compulsion to smoke. This way, you think of doing any of these positive actions, and your mind gets something concrete to do.
4. Celebrate small achievements
You can’t expect a habit you’ve acquired for several years to break overnight. It takes time, commitment, and effort, especially when it’s deeply ingrained in your lifestyle. Therefore, every time you break a bad habit, whether it’s for four days or four weeks, you must celebrate it. Use a record diary or an app to track how much you can go on without indulging these behaviors. Remember, every little step still counts as progress, and taking it as slowly as you want is okay.
Don’t try breaking all your bad habits in one go. It’s better to stick to one at a time to help you focus better and keep you from giving up too soon.
5. Partner with someone
No one can understand better how challenging the process is than someone going through the same thing. Supportive friends or relatives can be highly beneficial when letting go of a bad habit. They keep you from falling into old patterns and encourage you to stay stronger. You can also partner with someone trying to break free from one of their habits. Leaning on each other for support and being there when you slip up goes a long way towards achieving recovery. It may also help to reward each other with small trinkets or gifts to keep up the motivation and push through the tough times.
Enlist a friend who will most likely be there when you fall into a bad habit and is strong enough to keep you from relapsing.
6. Know your reasons for quitting
Your reason for quitting or breaking a bad habit is fundamental for your recovery process. For instance, when you replace junk food with a healthier alternative, you won’t get the same euphoric feeling as when eating a greasy burger. This is because your brain knows that’s not what you’re getting. And so, another more intrinsic motivation must come into play and force you to quit, despite the temptation.
While your brain may fully understand that eating a healthier diet is good for you, it may not be enough to get you to break your habit. However, changing your driving force to reasons like getting to spend more quality time with your family or watching your kids grow up may prove more effective.
7. Don’t be so hard on yourself
When working towards breaking a bad habit, there’s a good chance you won’t succeed in the first few tries. Despite your best efforts, you may fall into your old routine and go to sleep late, overspend, or have another drink. It’s normal to expect such behaviors, and so, when they do happen, you mustn’t beat yourself up over it. Negative emotions can quickly demotivate you and make you give up on quitting entirely.
A bit of self-love can go a long way in letting go of a bad habit quickly and efficiently. Making a mistake every once in a while won’t cause you to lose. You’re only human; allow yourself a few blunders and then move on.
If you’ve decided to let go of a bad habit, you’ve already fought half the battle. Use these tips to see what does or doesn’t work for you, and start working towards the lifestyle you always dreamed of. The sooner you act, the faster you’ll be able to regain control of your life.