Breaking old bad habits (or less desirable habits) and adding in new healthy ones is so much easier said than done. After all, we’re only human and I’ll admit I have broken a few well-intentioned habits along the way, and I fully expect I’ll do it again in the future.
Here’s why –
When you look at the science behind habits, it makes it a lot easier to understand why you might have a slip up when you’re really trying to create a new healthy habit in your life.
And, when you can arm yourself with the understanding of what’s going on, you give yourself a little grace and know that there is a process to creating a habit and it’s definitely not a failure if you have a misstep along the way.
What is a habit & how does it work?
A habit is simply a chain of events that happens in a row, which is kicked off by a trigger event. This trigger event is the critical step to breaking a bad habit, or one you’d like to change, but we’ll talk more about that in a second.
Have you ever turned on your phone to check your email and suddenly you were just mindlessly scrolling Instagram? (#Truthbomb – I’m right there with you)
So, what the heck happened there?
Well, two things really.
First, the trigger – you opened your phone.
Second, your brain is wired to want to put a series of events on auto-pilot so it can free up space for more important tasks.
You know, like when you drive from the grocery store to home and when you realize you were on complete auto-pilot the whole time. Or, when you wake up, you automatically have a series of activities you probably do each morning without much thought – wake up, go to the bathroom, complete your gratitude practice, check social media (guilty…again.), get clothes on, get kids dressed… and on and on.
So, now you know this trigger happens, and your brain will kick off a series of auto-pilot like events, this is the action.
Going back to the phone example – If you open your phone (the trigger), your brain might be so used to going to your social media apps that you don’t even have to give it much thought – it’s running on autopilot.
Once the trigger and the action happens, you’re left with the result, or the consequence.
The result happens in a couple of different ways including both physiological and emotional reactions in addition to external results.
That’s a lot of things at play at once, so it is no wonder that we’re only human and not able to stop ourselves from the automatic response we’re wired to have when a trigger is kicked off.
It takes a lot of manual thinking in order to break a habit – so what are some good ways to break a bad habit and create a new healthy habit?
How to Break a “Bad” Habit (or, a habit you no longer want to have)
Now that you know how habits work, it will be easier to understand why the following things are helpful when it comes to breaking a bad habit and putting a new healthy habit in its place –
1. Remove the trigger or change it up –
One of the first steps to making new healthy eating changes it to clean out your cupboard and get rid of all the cookies or treats in your house. The reason is that you’re getting rid of the trigger. When you walk into the kitchen, you’ll no longer have the option to grab a quick treat.
Once the treat is removed, the best way to go is to replace it with an energy-boosting snack option, like veggies or fruit. This way, you’re trigger might still be to feel hungry when you want in the kitchen, but the auto-pilot response to grab something to eat will be a healthy one.
2. Keep your attention and focus during the action –
If portion control is the habit you’re trying to change, it’s important to look at how you’re eating your meals. If you’re eating while looking at your phone or watching TV, you’re allowing that auto-pilot response to take over.
By sitting at a table and focusing on the food you’re eating and staying mindful about how it tastes and how fast you’re eating, you’ll be more likely to keep the auto-pilot response from kicking in.
The bottom line on this point is that awareness is an effective strategy for overcoming an auto-response. If you know that you have a specific trigger, then you’ll be better prepared for it when it happens or you’ll be able to avoid it altogether.
3. Repetition makes the habit –
As you probably know, habits aren’t formed over-night, and they aren’t broken overnight either. It takes time to change a habit from a bad habit to a healthy habit, but science tells us that the most effective way to do this is to make it an enjoyable process for yourself. When you enjoy the process, there are a few different things that happen in your body which ultimately starts to set up that auto-pilot response for the future.
This is why the idea of having a reward at the end of a new activity that you’d like to turn into a habit can be a helpful way to turn something into a habit. For example, treating yourself to a dark chocolate square or some chocolate milk after you go for a run may actually help rewire your brain to make running a habit. Interesting, huh?
Last but not least, take it one step at a time. Taking on too many changes at once or too big of a habit change makes it very difficult to be consistent. So, try to break bigger habits into smaller baby steps and take it one step at a time.
If you’ve been working on some new habits, but really struggling to get them to take hold, it’s something that I most love talking about with clients. We all have habits we’d like to change, and having someone that knows the right steps to take to break an old habit and replace it with new, more ideal habits can cut down on the time it takes to form that habit as well as help you follow through, so before you know it, that new activity you’ve been wanting to make into a habit will feel as natural as brushing your teeth. If that sounds like something you’d love help with, let’s chat.
Have you been able to successfully change a habit to one that’s more desirable? I’d love to hear how you did it and any helpful tips you might have from your experience. Comment below!