Why is it so hard to break bad habits? If you take a step back from just breaking the bad habit and understand how our brain works, you can change bad habits and easily come out of them. Besides, through this technique, you don’t need to force yourself either. It is a proven mechanism to stop all sorts of bad habits. Right from the less harmful obsessions like – nail-biting, hair picking, leaving dirty dishes on the table, and staying up late to addictions like smoking, drinking excessive alcohol, porn, or drugs.
So, What Is The Science Behind Breaking Bad Habits?
In this TED talk on simple ways of breaking bad habits, a psychiatrist and addiction expert, Judson Brewer, shares his research about mindfulness techniques that can effectively help reduce cravings or triggers and break the pattern of bad habits.
They affect the mid-brain that creates cravings, which is why a person can’t break bad habits.
Our brain works on a reward-based learning process.
The human brain goes on repeated cycles of trigger-behavior-reward to create habits and store them.
So, instead of fighting our brain from bad habits, he suggests that we become cautious, mindful, or pay attention to what we do.
So let’s say you are a smoker.
Instead of fighting your brain not to smoke, you can initially pay attention to how the experience of smoking makes you FEEL!
It must not be good.
So, when you pay attention and become mindful of what you are doing, your intellectual part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) recognizes the bad experience you encountered and distinguishes that smoking can kill you and is a bad habit.
What Are Bad Habits?
A habit, good or bad, is a repetitive action that is deeply wired in our brains. Much like good habits, even bad habits are not easy to let go of.
But with mindfulness, perseverance, and dedication, you can stop bad habits and lead a better life.
How to label your habit as good or bad is your outlook but if you wish to break the cycle of bad habits, look at the following steps to get you started.
Example of Bad Habits That People Find Difficult To Break
Here are some of the common examples of bad habits that are difficult to stop.
- Drinking tea or coffee
- Biting fingernails
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Nose picking
- Spending more than you earn
- Smoking cigarettes
- Drinking alcohol (more than the recommended levels)
- Staying up late
- Watching too much TV
- Overusing smartphone or digital devices
What are the disadvantages of bad habits?
Research has shown that several bad habits including sleep deprivation can cause depression, and increase rates of obesity, high blood pressure, etc among individuals.
Bad habits contribute to a lot of deaths. According to a WHO report, around 3 million deaths result from negative alcohol use, and 6 million people die due to overusing tobacco.
So, the best way to overcome these harmful effects of bad habits is by getting rid of them.
Read on to discover the ways to do so!
Simple Ways To Break Bad Habits
1. Identify The Habit
Never be vague about defining a behavior.
“I will not eat junk food,”
“I would not waste time.”
These are not very well defined goals.
Be specific about the habit you wish to change, and it should be doable.
For example, if you want to break the habit of not littering, think about- putting everything in its proper place.
If you wish to tackle smoking, do not think about ‘not smoking’ instead, focus your energy on not purchasing a cigarette.
Never be cynical about the repetitive action. Always be positive, and that will give the right boost.
2. Focus On One Habit At A Time
Our willpower is like a muscle. It will get tired and worn out if used too much. So focus on only one at a time.
Ego depletion, as psychologists call it.
It states that you can exert only limited energy on your willpower without stressing it out.
Otherwise, it will act on impulse and thus go back to the old routine.
In the case of many practices that need your attention and alteration, never tackle them all at one go. Each action requires a significant amount of willpower.
Resisting all the temptations together would lead to exerting willpower. To reap greater results, take one habit at a time and give a break in between.
3. Know Your Triggers
Most of the time, the autopilot kicks in when triggered, and we go back to our habit. I have been trying to avoid eating junk food, but whenever an advertisement for my favorite food comes on the telly, my cravings are triggered.
Now that I know what instigates my desires, I can control my mind and channel it elsewhere. All one needs is willpower.
Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, all points out this. She says, “There is no one size fits all”.
Instead, carefully identify the triggers and cultivate tactics to counteract them.
Would you let your will-power take control or the triggers? Leave a comment with your answer!
Sometimes we are not aware of these triggers, and the need to notice these triggers is even challenging. Take a step back and try to recall why you gave in to your cravings?
Try and remember your behavior, and you would notice the pattern, thus finding your trigger.
4. Break The Pattern
Once the brain is triggered, you return to auto-pilot, and the pattern continues. Thus it is crucial to breaking the chain. It would be best if you made the deliberate effort to curb these triggers themselves.
For example, if you have the habit of reacting badly to a situation, remove yourself from that place or practice deep breathing.
Don’t let your anger take over and control the situation. To change or get rid of bad habits, you need to break the pattern.
5. Take Up A Challenge
Challenge yourself. When we take up a challenge, we tend to prove it to others and ourselves. It is a battle of willpower and your cravings, triggers, and patterns!
Be 100% committed to taking up a 30-day challenge.
You need to arrange your life around it. You spend a lot of time and energy working towards completing the challenge, and you might even face difficulties along with some setbacks too.
Focus on one habit and set targets to alter it.
Be answerable to someone; declare it on social media. Success is sweeter when shared with many. And it is a motivation to yourself and others too.
There might be challenges where you might go wrong or require a longer time to change the habit. Don’t lose sight of the end goal. Be dedicated to the cause, and never be afraid.
6. Get Organized
Every challenge needs proper planning. Set up a timetable with a precise start date.
- Be committed and be on the appropriate track.
- Start the work and avoid triggers to break the pattern.
- Involve your friends and family or mentor who can guide you.
A support system works wonder in certain situations. The excitement and energy would help you improve your habit drastically.
7. Substitute Bad Habits With New Activities
Habits die hard, and bad ones are even harder to get rid of. You have to substitute them with good ones. If you wish to stop drinking alcohol, you cannot avoid going to parties.
Instead, make a deliberate effort to pick up some mocktail.
If you like to get up in the middle of the night to grab a quick bite, keep a bowl of salad or a few nuts, ready to help you curb the late-night cravings.
Finding an alternative activity to your bad practice may be more useful than trying to stop it altogether.
But make sure to stop one bad habit, you should not pick up another one!
8. Be Patient
We acquire habits over a long time, and thus, you need to be patient to stop the bad ones completely. It will take time to change the pattern. But be consistent and never give up.
Take one day at a time.
The old habits will calm down, and new ones will take over. Be persistent in your approach.
If none of these things help, take some professional opinion.
Doing the best you can do, even going beyond but not getting the desired result, you must seek help. A doctor or a therapist can unravel the source and can create the right environment to help you out.
Concluding thoughts on how to change bad habits,
All our habits are not the same. Some can be hard to change bad habits altogether. However, be committed and motivated to bring change deliberately.
Don’t worry or rush things. Be proactive, consistent, and intrinsically motivated. Take charge of your life, and you would be able to get rid of them.
What are your views on how to change bad habits? Do you have any other examples of bad habits? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
FAQs On Breaking Bad Habits
How many days does it take to break a habit?
- Although it can take a minimum of 21 days to cultivate new habits, it can take at least 4 weeks to stop a bad habit.
- It is suggested that you consciously practice quitting the bad habit during these 4 weeks so that it becomes a natural response from our brain.
How long does it take to break a bad habit?
- It can take a minimum of one month to come out of a bad pattern or addiction deliberately, as suggested above.
Why is it hard to break a bad habit?
- It is hard to break a bad habit because of the way our brain works. The human brain looks for reward-based learning and stores these patterns.
- It may be challenging to break the pattern for some people in a short span of time. A simple hack is to stop the old bad habit with a healthier one so that your brain doesn’t get triggered.