Everyone has a bad habit. Whether it’s smoking, eating junk food, fidgeting, chewing gum, oversharing on social media or tapping your fingers, a bad habit can harm your happiness, health or relationships.
Most people are aware of their poor habits and they are often desperately trying to kick them. However, this doesn’t always go as planned and the vast majority falls right back into their old ways.
While some of the bad habits are pretty harmless in every way – tapping feet or fingers or fidgeting – there are those habits that are harmful to our health, relationships and happiness – smoking and eating poorly come to mind.
At the very core of kicking bad habits is understanding their origins and how they form. Then, you should understand your triggers and then you can move on to learning how to beat those bad habits.
Here are some ways to let go of your bad habits and move on to a new and better life.
Understand how and why a habit forms
As mentioned, one of the first things you should do is understand how bad habits – or any habits for that matter – form. For one, this is just what our mind does. Our brains are built to form these neural pathways that give us the best results. When a desire triggers a reaction that satisfies the urge, the brain remembers this. The next time you have a desire, the brain just uses the system that worked before. This is in part, neurochemistry.
When your urge is satisfied – for hunger, soothing or anything else – we experience a rush of dopamine which is related to feeling good. After you get a few of those dopamine doses, you start wanting more. This drives you to indulge in the harmful behaviour whether it’s smoking, chewing gum or simply being on your phone.
“Why is this important? How can it help me? “, are some questions that you might ask.
In truth, when you understand what causes a habit to form, you have a better chance of noticing it and taking steps that lead to better choices. So, the next time you feel the urge to fulfil your needs and continue with a habit, retrace your steps and see how the habit reinforces itself and what causes it to form.
Change your mindset
Now, recognizing the problem, the triggers, the causes and the brain’s learned way to deal with problems is just the beginning of learning to let go of them. You should also start with a determination to do things differently. This determination should also be connected with something that has a deep meaning for you. This, in other words, means that you need to find the force of ‘I won’t’ powerful enough to beat the force of ‘I want’.
This willpower is your ability to connect with your brain system in terms of thinking about long-term results and goals instead of thinking about short-term desires and needs. You will still feel the emotion, the craving but at the same time, you will be aware of it enough to stop and think before fulfilling your urges. Over time, you develop mechanisms that allow you to stop going for the same old habits.
The HALT method
When you understand what you want – the reason behind the change – you begin to work on being stronger in your ability to choose differently. However, as anyone who has ever tried to kick a bad habit knows, this willpower is often not enough when it comes to changing. This is why scientists developed an acronym HALT that can help you understand and overcome the challenges.
If you feel the need to fulfill your bad habits, think first if you have this feeling. Impulse control is complex and it’s really a battle between the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. If you have a shortage of calories this will change the battle and it will be difficult to activate your willpower.
Feelings of anger or anxiousness can often put our bodies and minds into a fight or flight mode. This is when we start operating with our most primitive parts of the brain and in this mode our rational brain parts shut down. This decreases our ability to resist the urges we have or even consider the long-term results and consequences. So, the next time you feel an urge to fall into bad habits, think about your emotions, take a few deep breaths and take a beat before you make a decision.
When we share our commitment with other people we often follow through. Every person has to make a balance between their solitude and social life in order to kick habits successfully.
When depressing thoughts such us asking yourself ‘why am I so lonely‘ stop you from forming better habits, cut them off. Solitude is a virtue, forgotten in western countries. A healthy amount of alone helping to get in peace and get to know yourself better.
When we are tired, our willpower tends to die down. Establish healthy sleep habits in order to be in a good position to kick your bad habits.
First, set reasonable goals
The next step is actually diving deep into your issues and starting with the process of avoiding your old habits. In order to do this, you need some goals. Start with small victories – smoke one less cigarette a day, avoid one junk meal, drink one less glass of wine and so on. As you move on, you can increase your goals but only when you are ready. This way, your mind and body will get used to the change in a calm, healthy way and you’ll be far less likely to fall off the wagon.
Measure your success and don’t give up
When you set your goals, it might be a good idea to write them down in order to measure your success. Take your previous habits as a base and mark all the changes you make. Also, never give up, especially not if you fall off the wagon once in a while. This is not such a big deal as long as it’s a one-time thing and you get right back to the schedule later.
Fine yourself for every offense
People have concluded that attaching monetary value to your offenses can be an effective way to get rid of them. This works like your average swear jar would. For instance, you smoke 5 cigarettes in a day even though you decided that you’ll smoke 4 – fine yourself. And set a specific amount of money it will cost you – a dollar or five and so on.
An even better solution than a swear jar would be to give the money away – to street artists or poor people. You could always take money back from a jar but try taking that same money from someone else’s hands after you’ve already given it to them.
Do it with someone
Everything is much easier when you have someone to share it with. For example, if you make a decision to get up early to run, you’ll have a much easier time doing it with a friend. On the mornings you don’t feel like running or getting up, your friend can push you and on the days your friend doesn’t feel like getting up, you can push him.
You can do things together and push each other further. It’s also useful because there will be less social pressure to go back to your old ways when there is two of you – or more. You’ll have a good support system and you’ll be happier with your decisions, especially if you want to kick bad habits that are strongly associated with social aspect of your life like drinking, smoking, eating junk food and so on.
Change your environment and routine
Once you figure out your triggers, you can commit to avoiding them. For instance, if you are a smoker and social events or drinking trigger more smoking, you should avoid those situations as much as you can. This way, you’ll limit the number of chances to indulge in your bad habit and you’ll be able to get rid of it with ease.
However, adjust yourself to those situations slowly because you don’t want to be triggered again once you get rid of the habit completely. Even after a lot of time, certain events could trigger you to go back. So, avoid these situations for a while but then start adapting yourself and your new habits to that activity. For instance, go out drinking with your friends but don’t smoke. It will be much easier after a while.
Kick Your Bad Habits With These Five Steps
Kicking habits has never been easy. But if you are truly committed, you can do it by following these steps and learning how to deal with your bad habits.