Breaking bad habits is hard. It can take anywhere from 18 days to 250 days to effectively break a habit. Not all habits are bad, and while they are mildly irritating to you or others around you, they are essentially harmless. Others, however, can be detrimental to your health and wellbeing and cause many problems down the line.
But the willpower and determination it takes to sever the connection can be a serious stumbling block in your journey to breaking bad habits and creating new healthier ones that support your health and wellbeing. This post looks at some tips for helping you to break bad habits and to support yourself as you do so.
Identify the bad habit triggers
What makes you indulge in this habit, and what behavioural patterns lead you to do it? Spend some time tracking your pattern, identifying your triggers, and looking at what you can do to eliminate any triggers and make some changes. This first step isn’t about quitting instantly. It is about recognising why and when you do what you do and then coming up with a plan to help you break bad habits.
Once you know that bad habit trigger, it is easier to eliminate it.
Reduce stress levels
Many behaviours, such as smoking and excessive sugar consumption, are mediated by the brain’s dopamine (or reward) system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that causes people to feel good because it transfers impulses between neurons in the brain.
Experts agree that the first time you participate in a new, “rewarding” behaviour, you get a euphoric sense due to the release of dopamine. In turn, this leads to alterations in both the connections between neurons and the brain systems responsible for actions—and can explain for a significant portion of why we begin to develop harmful habits in the first place.
There is a big temptation that you will want to seek out that “high” and get the dopamine release when your stress levels are increased. Work on identifying your stresses and adopting new behaviours to help you cope without falling back into bad habits and having to restart the cycle all over again.
Seek professional assistance
Some habits can cross over into addictions and require you to seek medical intervention to help you support quitting and breaking the bad habits. Everyone’s brain works differently, and while some people can find the self-control to quit alone thanks to dedication and perseverance, others may find rehab services useful to give them the tools they need to break the bad habits successfully and avoid falling back into old patterns and behaviours.
In the first instance, you should consult with your doctor to find out what support is available to you and to access any other healthcare services they feel you might need to support you. In rare cases, bad habits can be caused by a medical problem that needs further investigation.
Get support to break your bad habit
To stop an undesired habit, you could try to do it with a buddy or partner who also wants to do so.
Assume that you and your partner wish to quit smoking. It isn’t easy to deal with cravings on your own sometimes. Trying to quit by yourself or with a companion will not eliminate the desires. However, when confronted with problems in the presence of another person, they may be simpler to deal with.
Make it a point to congratulate one another on their accomplishments and to encourage one another through failures. Consider informing a trustworthy friend about the bad behaviour you’re trying to kick or notifying a family member. Even if a friend does not have any habits they would like to modify, they can still encourage. They can encourage you when you’re feeling down and gently remind you of your objective when they realise you’re slipping back into old patterns.
Break it down
When people embark on weight loss journeys, it can be daunting to lose a larger amount, and the time it takes to get there can be discouraging. It is common practice to break down the larger goal into smaller ones, for example, losing 7lbs in 8 weeks. Or drop a dress size in one month. This makes the goal more attainable, and before you know it, you have hit your end goal. The same process can be applied to breaking bad habits.
If you want to stop smoking, for example, tell yourself you will go one day without smoking. Then increase it to two, then a week, a month and so on. Or even cut down the number of cigarettes you have each day until you are down to one and then take it to none. The thought of giving up forever, even though you know this is the end game, can be intimidating, so giving yourself smaller, easier targets can allow you to remain on track and push through after a day is easier to get through than a lifetime, especially when it requires you to give up something.