One of the ways our brain adapts to our routine is to form habits. Once we’ve repeated an action enough times in a certain context, it becomes automatic. This can be good for a lot of things in our daily lives. For example, when you’re walking down the street and see someone you know, it may be a habit for you to wave or smile at them. However, habits can also be bad for us, no matter how simple they may seem. If you make a habit out of eating sweets every day or drinking alcohol whenever you feel down, it will be detrimental to your health in the long run.
But just as habits are made, they can also be unmade. Here’s a list of tips to help you break out of a bad habit for good.
Know your triggers and get them out of your sight
It can sometimes take us a while to notice that we’re even acquired a bad habit. Acknowledging that we have is the first step to quitting it. Apart from identifying the habit itself, you also need to identify what prompts you to engage in it. This is what’s known as a trigger or cue.
Knowing what triggers you is a crucial step. Then, take away all these triggers and cues from your environment to keep you from engaging. For instance, if you’re trying to cut down on your intake of junk food, you’ll need to immediately clear all of the ones you have from your home.
But some things around you are not within your control. For instance, you’re trying to live sober, but there’s a bar on your way home that you can’t avoid passing by. Since you can’t just have the bar closed down, you may want to consider sober living homes, like Camelback Recovery LLC. Centers like this allow you to live in a trigger-free environment with a supportive community, recovery coaching, and numerous amenities. They provide you with an environment that is conducive to your recovery.
Have a support system
Tell your closest friends and family that you’re trying to break out of your bad habit. Surround yourself with the people that are supportive of your endeavor and are willing to help you reach your goal.
Visualize your goal
Like any other goal, it helps to let yourself daydream a bit.
Imagine yourself being successful in breaking your bad habit. This will engage your emotions and make you more motivated. Where do you want to be in your life when you’ve quit smoking, drinking, eating sweets, or even just staying up too late? What will you be able to achieve when you’ve kicked the bad habit?
It may also help you to write all of these down, so you can go back to them whenever you feel like you may be about to relapse.
Train your brain
Habits are formed and broken due to the brain’s neuroplasticity. This refers to its ability to change and develop based on our actions, experiences, and emotions.
Whenever you practice an action, neuronal connections in your brain form. This is the same science at work when you’re practicing a skill, such as playing an instrument. The more you practice, the more connections are formed and strengthened in your brain. These connections are what enable you to get better at that skill.
Forming or breaking habits works on a reward system. When you practice a skill, you are rewarded with a rush of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives you a feeling of pleasure. The same thing happens when you engage in bad habits. For example, whenever you eat a sweet, your brain releases dopamine. The more you do it, the dopamine rush comes earlier and earlier until the mere thought of eating sweets incites dopamine high. This is how making these bad habits can become addictive.
Out with the bad, in with the good
One of the things that make it difficult to quit something is the void that it leaves open. Suddenly, because you’re trying to quit a habit, you find yourself somewhat unoccupied. This unoccupied feeling can cause you to relapse. You now have to fill that void with a different habit — a healthier one. If you’re trying to use your phone less at night, try leaving it outside your bedroom for the night and curling up with a book before bed. Don’t expect this to be easy. This is the formation of a new habit, so it will take time and effort.
Lower your stress levels
You’re more likely to engage in self-destructive behavior when you’re stressed. One of the most helpful ways to manage your stress is to meditate. The Healthy Minds Program is an app you can download on your phone. It contains meditational exercises that can be done seated or active (during exercise, your commute, or while doing chores). It also features podcast-style lessons backed by neuroscience that teach you how to manage your thoughts and emotions and transform how you respond to stressful situations.
Be patient and be kind to yourself
Breaking a new habit or forming a new one takes a lot of time and hard work. Remember that the beginning of the process can often feel like the hardest part. Give yourself positive feedback for every victory you achieve — however big or small.
Quitting a bad habit can be difficult because change is difficult. Luckily, our brain is an ever-developing organ. Its neuroplasticity makes it possible for us to break out of old habits and form new ones with time and effort. It may be a long and difficult road ahead, so remember to be patient and kind to yourself. Cut out triggers from your environment, surround yourself with support and positivity, and celebrate small victories.