How to break a bad habit

Destructive Habits
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We all have bad habits.  If it was easy to break them, we probably wouldn't have them in the first place.  These powerful thoughts could be the very thing you need to make a BIG breakthrough in getting rid of your bad habits.

Break a bad habit by focusing on what you are doing

We know from our principles of sustainable habits, that one of the key things to do in order to break habits, is to Focus.  Becoming focused on the event is to get into a state of mindfullness. This means becoming aware of what we are doing, and how it feels at that time. 

In his video, psychiatrist Judson Brewer looks at the links between mindfulness and addiction.  His concept of context dependent memory, says that we remember what we felt like at a point in time, or whilst doing a particular thing, like smoking, drinking, or even running or walking.   In this article we focus on bad habits, but the principles can equally be used in developing good habits or making existing habits better.

break habits pattern trigger behaviour rewardTrigger Behaviour Reward

This can be described as a behavior cycle, and after all, habits are merely repetitive behaviours.  

Trigger: Identify the event, smell, action that caused us to start doing this particular behavior.  What is that causes us to pick up the cigarette, to go to social media, or to procrastinate?  

Behaviour: This is the actual thing that we do, that we want to prevent or improve.   This is where mindfulness comes in.  Instead of beating yourself up because you know you shouldn't be taking this action, rather focus on the action itself. 

Tap into the habit of curiosity: Ask yourself "Why am I wanting to do this now?".  Ask "How does it feel to take part in this activity?"  Most importantly try and become aware of how it feels, and think of the short term feelings, the immediate sensations, and also think of the longer term implications.  Some questions to ask could be:

  • "Is this beneficial to me?";
  • "Is this harmful to me, or to anyone else";
  • "Could I be doing something else at this time that would make me feel better?"

Reward: Let curiosity become the reward.  The idea behind this approach is that curiosity is in itself rewarding.  We are naturally inquisitive creatures, and by becoming aware and mindful, we are rewarding one of our innate senses.

Your state of mindfulness or curiosity can become the trigger for another more positive action.

Use this technique to break a bad habit, but also consider how it can be used when you are struggling to start a new habit.  Start by asking questions like:

  • "What is preventing me from putting on my running shoes?";
  • "Why am I not packing my gym bag?"
  • "Why am I putting off doing something that I know is important?"

And so the cycle goes.  Try it and you never know.  It may just be the key to unlocking your habit success.

You can view the original video at TedTalks.

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