Mind & Body
Breaking Bad Habits
1/3/2019 11:30:05 AM

Bad habits: We all have them; we all wish we didn’t. Breaking bad habits, though, is rarely easy.
Not all habits are bad, of course. In fact, an article in Johns Hopkins Health Review explains that habits help you make it through the day successfully. 

Do you brush your teeth every night before bed without even thinking about it? That’s a habit. Drive to work every day without really pondering how to get there? Also a habit.

Those habits came about because of repetition. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), when we perform these good habits automatically, it frees our brains up to focus on other things.

However, the NIH says habits can also develop when good or enjoyable events trigger what’s known as "reward” centers in the brain, meaning they make us feel good — even if they’re bad for us. These behaviors are considered habits after we’ve done them over and over and we continue doing them even without expecting a "reward.” Examples include smoking or eating too much sugar.

So, how do you break a bad habit? It’s not easy, but with a focused effort, it’s possible. Here’s how:

Identify your triggers, or cues. 
Think of these as the causes of your bad habits. It’s easier to break a habit if you eliminate whatever triggers you to do it in the first place. Do you buy a doughnut every morning because you drive by a certain store on your way to work? Try taking a different route. Do you check your social media accounts until late at night when you should be sleeping just because your phone is within reach? Leave it in another room at night.

Be specific about what habit you want to break. 
You’ll likely find this to be more effective than setting general goals. Rather than saying, "I will stop drinking so much alcohol,” you could tell yourself, "I will drink only one glass of wine each evening” or "I will have tea instead of beer when I go to a restaurant.”

Find a replacement for the habit. 
According to a Johns Hopkins article, it’s hard to break a habit that brings you enjoyment unless you can replace it with something else you enjoy. Once you find that something else, breaking the habit will be easier. For example, someone who binge-watches TV when they are stressed might find they enjoy listening to music while going for a walk just as much. The key is to keep trying until you find something you enjoy enough to replace the bad habit.

Seek support. 
Changing a bad habit can be especially hard to do on your own. The NIH recommends enlisting your family, friends, or co-workers to help. They may be trying to break bad habits of their own, and you can rely on each other for encouragement and accountability. Skip dessert together, chat while walking on your lunch break rather than smoking, or call each other in the morning when the alarm goes off to make sure no one skips a workout.

Go easy on yourself. 
If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up. Acknowledge that you backtracked and then move forward. Also remember that it’s okay to take baby steps. If you buy a large soda every day for lunch but you can’t quite bring yourself to order water instead, start by switching to a medium or small soda. It’s an improvement, and it might make it easier to take the next step.
Posted by: Andrea Mongler | Submit comment | Tell a friend


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