Habits form when we repeat an action and often they are very helpful to us. We form bad habits because they have short-term benefits, and we ignore the long-term consequences for this momentary payoff. The more enjoyable the instant gratification, the harder the bad habit is to break.
When behaviors are enjoyable, even if they’re unhealthy, they can release a chemical in the brain called dopamine. The habit becomes even stronger, and we continue doing it regardless of how we feel afterward (i.e. overeating, obsessively checking social media, etc.).
STRATEGIES TO BREAK BAD HABITS
Along the path to better habits, we must start by making a choice. Here are several strategies to break bad habits:
- Identify purpose – Perhaps the most helpful strategy is to understand what purpose the bad habit serves. If you weren’t getting something from it, you wouldn’t keep doing it.
- Identify progression – What actions typically lead up to your habit? Disrupting the progression of events that trigger your bad habit sets you up for greater success.
- Identify motivation – How would you assess your commitment to change? Feeling a deep connection to your “why” helps make difficult choices worth it.
- Identify influence – Try to avoid individuals who are linked to dangerous habits like excessive drinking or drug use.
MOVING TOWARD GOOD HABITS
- Plan ahead – Don’t trust your strength in the moment. Making a plan ahead of time for dealing with temptation prepares your mind to resist the urge.
- Change environments – Be mindful of situations and temptations where it might be easy to continue in your behavior. This will help to eliminate the potential for a slip-up.
- Practice mindfulness – Pay attention to your mind and body. Be mindful of the emotions you’re experiencing and what’s going on in your body.
- Replace with good – Trade out your bad habits for good ones. For example, swap out the time you once spent overeating and use it to exercise.
POSSIBLE SETBACKS ALONG THE WAY
- Not alone – You don’t have to do this alone. Find someone wanting to quit one of his or her bad habits and team up.
- Forgive – If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up. Change takes time. Some days you might take a step back before you keep moving forward. Forgive yourself and keep trying.