Introduction: The Problem with Habits, Why are They So Hard to Break?
Habits are a sequence of actions that we do on a regular basis. They can be both good and bad. Habits are often triggered by cues, which can be external or internal.
The habit loop is the idea that habits consist of three parts: the cue, the routine and the reward. The cue is what triggers the habit to start, the routine is what you do as a result of that trigger, and the reward is what you get for completing this action successfully.
The problem with habits is that they are a product of the brain’s efficiency mechanism, which is a survival mechanism. It helps us save energy and time by making it easier to do things we do often. This mechanism makes it difficult for us to break habits because the brain doesn’t want to waste energy on something that it thinks is unnecessary.
How to Develop Healthy Habits and Stop Harmful Ones
Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to forge. As we have established earlier habits are a part of brain's efficiency mechanism and habits are literally etched into our brains. More we repeat an action, the more the neural pathways associated with the habit are activated and reinforced. The good news is that you will forge new habits through repetition. The bad news is that you will only forge new habits through repetition.
Now you may wonder why do bad habits form.
Most of the time bad habits are way to help you deal with boredom and stress. Habits like overeating, nail-biting, overspending, drinking emerge as a way to deal with stress an boredom and eventually become automatic and engrained into you as they are repeated over the months, weeks and days.
Breaking bad habits in itself is not sufficient. You replace the bad habit with a desired habit. All habits Good or bad that you currently have, serve a purpose in your life. These benefits may be physiological (e.g. the feeling after one may consume drugs), emotional (e.g. to remain in abusive relationships even if they are bad) and sometimes they are just a coping mechanism (e.g. biting your nails). Therefore, it is important that once you have identified a bad habit that you want to break. Replace it with a desired habit.
How to break bad habits.
Substitution: This one requires a little bit of planning ahead. Once you have identified the situation and bad habit . Next time when you have the are in the situation to act out you bad habit (e.g. you are feeling stressed and you have an urge to smoke.) you change the action to the desirable habit (e.g. your are feeing stressed and you do breathing exercises.)
Eliminate the triggers: for example if you overdrink. do not go to the bar. If you binge eat cookies do not place the cookie jar on the countertop. Essentially you identify as many triggers for the bad habit and work towards removing them from your immediate environment.
How You Can Use Mindfulness To Change Your Bad Habits
The ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not unduly reactive or overwhelmed by what is happening around us is known as mindfulness. When mindfulness is present, we may more clearly and wisely understand our thoughts, feelings, motives, reactions, and responses. Before acting, we can think things out and decide what would be the best course of action.
A large portion of stress, anxiety and suffering in our lives exist because we are not paying attention to our own thoughts and beliefs and treat them as just and absolute facts of life. We tell ourselves the wrong stories and our habits play into them creating suffering and pain. You might experience a loss or feel lonely or anxious and comfort yourself by eating something sweet, having a glass of wine, or zoning out in front of the TV for a few hours. Once in a while this behaviour is harmless. However, daily or weekly repetition of these actions without through thought of their impact on our life encourage these actions and our mind begins to associate the temporary relief unpleasant feelings with the new behavior and your thinking reinforces the behavior.
How to use Mindfulness to break your bad habits
Do not judge yourself or your actions. It gives your bad habits more power. What's important is that you're honest with yourself. Some of your bad habits are obvious, like smoking or overeating, but others are subtle behaviors that require lots of practice and awareness training to catch.
Understand the triggers and Root Causes :The next step is to try to understand what triggered the habit in the first place and what triggers the behavior. This can be really tricky. Not all bad habits are as nefarious as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes. Catching yourself before you engage in these microhabits is a sure way to knock them off.
Set intentional and actionable goals: Stress often triggers habits, but it can also reinforce them, making them stick. Give yourself a break and acknowledge that what you're trying to do will take time. Tackle one pattern at a time and make small incremental changes.
Meditation is your ally: Countless studies show that a regular meditation practice has an enormous impact on your brain’s neuroplasticity. Meditation helps rewrite your brain’s software, giving you more control over it. If you have a bad habit, it's because your neural network has been wired to be familiar with certain triggers and responses. The brain likes the familiarity, and like you wired your brain for some bad patterns, it's easy to replace them with healthier ones.
Be Kind: We tend to be really hard on ourselves when we mess up. As previously mentioned, stress can only make your habit worse. Self-compassion and treating yourself like a friend will help you get to your goal.
Conclusion: A Guide to Changing Your Terrible Habits and Creating a Better Future for Yourself
Learning how to stop bad habits and break free of constant cycles of unhelpful behaviour is an incredibly difficult journey. However, by committing to improving yourself through mindfulness techniques, you can start to rewrite your bad habits and create a better future for yourself.
Mindfulness can help bring awareness to your environment and improves focus, allowing you to break the cycle of unproductive behaviour. This increased awareness can often make it easier to detect patterns that have previously gone unnoticed and create more proactive approaches to break these bad habits. As your awareness grows, you are more likely to catch yourself before any action of behaviour can take place.
Additionally, mindfulness can also help boost your self-regulation and provide you with the strength to face difficult situations without reverting to your bad habits. This advanced level of self-regulation means you are able to tackle and process your bad habits head on rather than trying to avoid them. By indulging in comfortable yet mindful practices such as yoga, journaling and meditation, you can reframe and retrain your mind to better cope with difficult situations and make more healthy choices.
In conclusion, by committing to a mindful strategy, you can start to break the cycle of unhelpful behaviour and create lasting changes