Everybody has habits, and none of them is intrinsically bad. Some are quite beneficial, such as laying out your work clothes the night before or turning out the lights when you leave a place.
However, some behaviours, such as biting your nails, drinking caffeine later in the day, or pressing the snooze button too often, may not be so healthy.
It can be difficult to break bad habits, especially if you’ve been doing them for a long period. Realizing how habits arise in the first place, on the other hand, can make the process go more smoothly.
There are several hypotheses about how habits form. One of the most important concepts is the 3 Rs:
Reminder. This is a trigger, or cue, which can be a conscious action like flushing the toilet or a sensation like anxiousness.
Routine. This is the action that is linked to the trigger. While flushing the toilet prompts you to wash your hands, nervousness prompts you to bite your nails. The repetition of behaviour can turn it into a habit.
Reward. A habit’s stickiness is further aided by the reward linked with the activity. The joyful release of dopamine in your mind can encourage you to do it again if you accomplish something that brings you pleasure or soothes your suffering.
Here are some ways to help you change that old, obstinate habit, based on the 3 Rs concept.
Remember that identifying triggers is the first step toward forming a habit. The first step toward overcoming your regular habits is to identify the triggers that cause them.
Track your habit for a few days to determine if it follows any trends.
Take note of the following:
Let’s say you don’t want to stay up past midnight any longer. After a few days of recording your activity, you notice that if you start watching TV or speaking with friends after supper, you tend to stay up later. If you read or go for a walk, though, you will go to bed earlier.
On weekend nights, you choose to turn off the TV and switch off your phone by 9 p.m. Eliminating the trigger — watching TV or talking to friends — makes it more difficult to stick to the late-night pattern.
Why are you trying to break or change a habit? According to 2012 research, changing your habit is easier whenever the change you wish to make it worthwhile or advantageous to you.
Consider why you wish to quit the habit and any advantages you perceive as a result of the change for a few moments. List these factors to see if you can come up with any others that haven’t occurred to you yet.
Note down your reasoning on a sticky note and keep it on your smart refrigerator, bathroom mirror, or somewhere else you’ll see it frequently for added inspiration.
Mindfulness can assist you in becoming more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Simply monitoring impulses that are related to your habit without judging or reacting to them is part of this exercise.
You may find it simpler to consider alternatives, such as ignoring reminder cues or not acting on desires when you’re more aware of these repetitive behaviours and the factors that lead to them.
Instead of merely trying to stop the undesired activity, you could find it easier to break the habit if you swap it with new behaviour.
Let’s say you’re trying to quit smoking because you’re stressed at work. If you simply try to stop smoking, you may revert to the habit if you are unable to withstand temptation. However, testing out vaping may help you live a healthier life and reduce your desire to smoke.
The desire to follow the new habit grows as you repeat the new behaviour. After you realize the benefits of the new habit — more energy and less sugar crash — the motivation to continue doing it may eventually exceed the impulse to pursue it.
With a little effort and attention, you might be able to break some habits on your own, such as buying lunch every day or missing the gym. However, if you want to address deeper problems like emotional eating, compulsions, alcohol misuse, or addiction, you’ll need the help of a skilled mental health expert.
Working through these issues on your own can be difficult, and a therapist or counsellor can help.
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