Bad Habits: How to (Scientifically) Break Them

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It takes practice and repetition to create good (or bad) habits. Therefore, it will take both practice and repetition to break them.

It’s not always a bad thing to have habits. When driving to work, for example, you don’t have to think about whether to turn left or right. The route becomes second nature. We want the brain to learn how to accomplish those things without exerting energy or effort.

Habits are part of how your brain operates. Habits allow the brain to adapt. However, whether it’s resorting to junk food when we’re upset or having a cigarette break when we’re anxious, bad habits can lead us astray.

Start with these five techniques to get rid of those annoying bad habits, whatever they are.

1. Removing bad habits starts with reducing your anxiety.

The dopamine (or reward) system in the brain is involved in many behaviors. It affects such things as smoking or eating too much sugar. Dopamine is a “feel-good” molecule that communicates between brain neurons.

According to research, the first time you participate in a new, “rewarding” behavior, you get a euphoric sense as a result of dopamine release. This causes alterations in your brain. It alters both the connections between neurons and the brain systems that control actions. This explains why we begin to establish bad habits in the first place.

Furthermore, when you’re anxious, you’re more likely to do the thing you don’t want to do. However, there are solutions to this. They address the underlying causes of these seemingly harmful behaviors.

What are some possible solutions? The first recommendation is getting enough sleep. In addition to that, frequent exercise is helpful. Further, using stress-reduction tactics like meditation along with rest and exercise will boost willpower and overall brain health.

2. Begin to recognize your bad habit cues.

A trigger, a routine, and a reward, according to research, are the three basic components of a habit.

Triggers or cues are the circumstances under which you are more likely to engage in the behavior. Work breaks, for example, could be the cue if you’re a smoker. If you’re a dessert connoisseur, it could be as simple as looking over the dessert menu. Therefore, you’re most likely to relapse in the environment of when you’ve done it previously.

Knowing what sets off your triggers can help you avoid them in the future.

It’s recommended that smokers get rid of ashtrays that remind them of their habit. In addition, people trying to cut back on drinking should avoid going by the bar where they always go for happy hour.

Taking advantage of major life changes can also aid in the breakup of an unwanted habit.

Perhaps you think a cross-country move or a new job isn’t the best time to make more changes in your life. However, according to research, major lifestyle changes can really be the best time to kick a habit. You’re moving into new contexts and scenarios. Therefore, you don’t have those same cues. It’s the perfect opportunity to build new habits!

3. Substitute a good habit for a negative one.

Start doing something different. Do something new instead of trying to quit doing something you don’t want anymore.

We are action-oriented beings. According to recent research, the more you hide your thoughts, the more likely you are to think about them. Similarly, the more you try to avoid them, the more likely you are to fall back into harmful habits.

According to a recent study, those who suppressed their thoughts about eating chocolate experienced a behavioral rebound effect. As a result, they consumed considerably more chocolate than those who did not. Similarly, smokers who tried to suppress their thoughts about smoking ended up thinking about it even more.

If you smoke and tell yourself not to, your brain still hears “smoke.” Telling oneself to chew gum every time you desire a smoke, on the other hand, gives your brain a more positive, tangible action to accomplish. Similarly, suppose 5:00 p.m. has been associated with a glass of wine for years. It’s recommended to double down on hydration and stock the fridge with seltzers, cold water, and lemon.

However, building a new habit takes time and dedication. Therefore, don’t give up if it takes longer than you expected. According to a recent study, changing behavior takes an average of 66 days.

4. Find a better reason to quit.

Suppose you replace a “bad” habit with a better one. It may be that the original vice may have a higher biological reward than the substitution. Gum, for example, does not contain nicotine. Therefore, it does not create the same euphoric effect as smoking a cigarette.

This is when having an inherent motivation comes in handy.

We all know that stopping smoking is excellent for our health. In addition, we know that restricting our burger consumption can help us lose weight. However, according to research, what motivates habit changes tying them to specific and personal reasons.

For example, quitting smoking for good may mean spending more time with your family. Furthermore, eating healthier may give you more energy for those outdoor adventures you used to enjoy. These reasons provide a stronger dose of motivation.

5. Upgrading your goals helps you dump unwanted behaviors.

Change your focus from a broad aim to a specific action.

For example, you may say, “I will not grab a cookie on my way out of the cafeteria.” Instead, picture how you’ll put this goal into action in your daily life.

First, examine how you’ve handled similar situations in the past. After that, determine what you can do to avoid cookies in the future. This may be all it takes to break the habit. This could simply mean avoiding the sweets rack altogether.

Take action based on a well-thought plan. That is always going to be easier than attempting to come up with a fresh plan on the fly. In addition, thinking about how you’re going to achieve something helps you in other ways. It builds the perspective that you can do it. That’s at least half the battle.

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