5 Science-Proven Ways to Break Habits
Are you after a way to break that bad habit that's been bugging you? Whether it's something small or a significant shift in your life routine — help is out there.
Breaking your bad habit requires rewiring your brain and might take a lot of work on your part. But the life-changing results are worth it. Everyone has something they need to let go of, so it's okay to need help freeing yourself.
However, it's hard to sort through all the noise when you have everyone from specialists to casual acquaintances bombarding you with advice. Discover five scientifically-backed ways on how to break a habit! Start now and experience the results faster than you think.
1) Understand Your Triggers
It is imperative to know what sparks up your bad habit. Before you can stop doing something, you must understand why you do it in the first place.
For example, if you have a sweet tooth that you can't get under control, look for the cues in life that trigger it. Do you impulsively buy those discounted cupcakes in the grocery store aisle? Does the dessert menu in a restaurant make your mouth water? Do you accept every time someone offers you a sugary treat?
Once you can isolate what causes the problem, you can step back and analyze your decision objectively. Very quickly, you will start to notice patterns in your life. Once you understand those patterns and triggers, you can cease your habit before it gets out of hand.
There is real power in saying “no, thank you” to a slice of cake at a co-worker's birthday. You will feel in control when you turn down dessert and choose to have a cup of tea instead.
Often, triggers arise when you become stuck in a routine. When you go to work the same way every day, stop at the store on the way home and pick up treats real quick, you are more stuck than you realize. But by just driving on a different route, you will not feel as tempted to give in to temptation.
Let variety be the spice of your life. Tomorrow is a great day to start. Take the back roads to the office, maybe cook dinner at home — try anything out of the ordinary that distracts you from the same old routine.
2) Exchange a Bad Habit With a Healthy One
You have the strength to choose a better way of living.
If you lack the motivation to leave the couch but then regret your lack of exercise, start small. Try stretching in front of the TV or alternating between standing and sitting. You probably won't be able to replace TV time with a full-on workout right away, but you can build up to it over time.
Simply repressing your thoughts is far more likely to lead to a rebound in your habit. You can only push away an addiction for so long. You then create a void in your life. And a void is a vacuum — it just sucks you back in, making it that much harder to escape.
Instead of leaving yourself a dangerous void of dependence, replace it with something positive. For example, if you tend to bite your nails, toss a piece of gum in your mouth instead. Once you do this enough times, eventually, your mind will associate the desire to bite your nails with the need to chew some gum.
Studies say it takes about two months of practice to rewire your brain and break a nasty habit. Some people will click right away, and others may take even longer. But the more you keep rigid in your practice, the easier it will become to maintain.
Start a new lifestyle today, and keep it going — one day at a time.
3) Know Why You Want to Stop
Give yourself a real reason to break that habit. “Because it's bad for me” is not an actionable way to frame your habit. “Someone told me to stop” does not put you in control.
A clear and attainable ‘other side’ will give you something to look forward to and a goal you can work at for an extended duration. Goal setting is essential to changing one's lifestyle because it gives you something tangible to accomplish.
If you tend to have one too many beers after work, reframe your mind. Sure, it is not healthy for you, but if that doesn't stop you — consider the implications it has on those you love. You break a habit not only to help yourself but to help your entire circle of relationships.
Some people have success breaking free from a habit when they can fully externalize their goals. Working from the outside-in is a proven way to see success.
Not everyone can peer deep inside their soul and fight an internal battle. But having a child or partner explain how your actions hurt them provides an external realization that a change needs to come.
Set yourself a long-term goal that requires constant practice. For instance, plan to run a marathon a year from today. The only way you can accomplish that goal is by stopping your habit. By the time you cross that finish line, you'll realize you have conquered your habit and achieved something you never thought possible.
The power is within you to discipline yourself and lift yourself out of any ruts.
4) Practice Mindfulness
In those moments when you indulge in your habit, think deeply and clearly about the sensations.
Ask yourself: How does this make my body feel? Am I happy? Will I regret this moment?
Mindfulness is a practice of meta-cognition or thinking about your thinking. All you need to do to reach this state is the conscious use of breath.
Try this breathing exercise next time you get caught up in a habit:
Relax your body, and put both your feet on the ground and feel solid against the earth. Notice your breath. Follow the natural rhythms… inhale… exhale. No need to push anything. Close your eyes. Let your mind wander to wherever it wants to go. Continue this for just 5 minutes.
After slowing down your breath and calming your body, you'll be able to consider the consequences of your habit.
Mindfulness is a popular part of modern cognitive behavioural therapy. CBT's main principle is that by changing your mind, you can change your body too. It is all about going easy on yourself and recognizing your behaviour.
Everyone can take advantage of awareness. But it might surprise you how many people are simply coasting through the day on autopilot.
Many people with addictive personalities report not even being aware they are amid their habit. You can't alter your habit or change if you don't even know you're doing it!
Ask a trusted friend to remind you what you're doing if you fall into your vice again. Having an extra set of eyes on you will help reframe your actions.
Stay calm, stay focused, and practice mindfulness.
5) Accept Relapses
Even with the best methods, it is impossible to lie to your brain. Sometimes we fail. You may find yourself revisiting old territory.
But now you have the tools to overcome it like never before. Remember, you are not in the dark anymore. Remind yourself that, no matter what, you are not starting from zero anymore.
The worst thing you can do is beat yourself up over failing. Accept failure, learn from it and move on.
An essential tenet of Buddhism is not becoming attached to your meditation practice. Think of this when you experience a relapse. You have not crumbled the entire system you have worked so hard to build. You go through hard times and easy times, and that's just the way it is.
If you find yourself falling back on old ways, break out your tools. Practice mindfulness at that moment and analyze your situation without judging yourself. You are only doing your habit in those minutes; you're not doing it forever. Remember that a habit does not define you.
Trauma, old triggers, and unexpected circumstances can all lead to relapses. Expect to find comfort in your bad habits and work to replace them with your healthy habits.
The most important way to break a habit is to be kind to yourself. Punishment is not the road to satisfaction.
Breaking a habit should not be like breaking a bone. It is more like a melting candle; you light the flame of change and let the wax drip away until you have a clean slate.
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