Habits. We all have them. And they’re hard to break.
Think about it…
On any given day you might eat the same foods, talk to the same handful of friends, do the same exercise (or not). You might mull over the same thoughts and worries (remember, don’t believe everything you think).
Once you’re home you probably watch the same old TV shows. You know they call it TV programming for a reason…
You get programmed. Wired to a certain way of doing and feeling.
Like computers run programs, humans run habits. And just like your computer programs can get outdated, so can your habits.
When your habits no longer serve you, it’s time for an update. A reboot.
Not all habits are bad. Good, healthy habits — just like good computer software — can make your life a breeze.
Of course “good” and “bad” are subjective words and depend on your perspective.
When we talk about “healthy habits” we mean the ones that lessen your struggles. Habits that make the good things in life that much better. But realize that a healthy habit for someone else, isn’t necessarily healthy for you.
What are some ways you can ditch the habits that make you feel down?
1. Identify When Bad Habits Strike
You want your habits to be health-promoting. Not health-defeating.
For example: you want to get in the habit of turning off your screens (smartphone, TV, computer) an hour before bed. You don’t want to get in the habit of watching two hours of random Internet videos and then start worrying about why you can’t sleep.
You get the idea.
One thing makes you feel better. It contributes to your health. The other doesn’t.
Habits you find self-destructive, useless, or negative in some way are “bad” habits.
When a bad habit strikes ask yourself:
- Do I do this in the same place every time?
- Do I do this when I’m around certain people?
- Do I do this at certain times of day?
- Do I do this when I’m feeling a certain way or am in a certain mood?
A 2012 USC study delved into the topic of habits and what triggers them. It found that strong habits come less from our goals and ideas (i.e. thinking about doing them) and more from external cues.
That means our environment can trigger habits. But it doesn’t mean your goals aren’t important either. The same study found goals did guide “moderate strength” habits.
Try to understand the context your bad habits happen in. When you realize that, it’ll help you identify and change the patterns that cause them.
2. “Starve” Bad Habits
Research by psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz in the field of neuroplasticity shows you can “starve” circuits in your brain. Starve the circuits that create the feedback loops of a bad habit.
He says your brain gets wired with habits in childhood. Once the wiring is in place it produces a feel-good chemical reaction.
And that keeps you doing the same things over and over again.
But he also says you have the ability to change your habits and urges by changing your thoughts. Your mind is greater than your brain.
In other words, you can choose not to perform a habit by being aware of it.
Like when you feel the urge to eat a candy bar, think to yourself, “I can see I want a candy bar. That’s fine. But I’ll have an apple instead.” That’s starving the candy bar circuit.
Sounds too simple, but in the long-term it works.
Dr. Schwartz even developed a four-step system to change bad habits.
He says the brain is passive and shaped by the activity of the mind — that it can make new connections at any age.
The habits you find yourself doing are not “you”. It’s only your brain doing what it’s been wired to do.
So don’t identify with the habits.
That’s a large part of what mindfulness is all about. It’s the process of looking at what’s going on inside, and deciding how it’s affecting you. How it’s clouding the real you.
It’s like a third party perspective on your thoughts.
3. Live More in The Present Moment (Where NO Habits Exist)
Think about the times when your bad habits play out. What are you doing?
Usually too much.
Your attention is elsewhere. You’re not aware of all the things you’re doing and those pesky habits kick in.
But when you stop all the moving, doing, and achieving — the stuff of modern day life — you find stillness.
There are no habits in that stillness. So this tip is less about doing and more about being.
You just are.
If you feel the urge to perform one of your old habits… stop. Become aware of what you’re doing.
You can find your way to stillness in a lot of different ways: deep breathing, progressive body relaxation, meditation, yoga, Pilates, walking in nature, or simply being aware of your surroundings. The list goes on and on.
But all these practices have one thing in common — they stop your train of thought and activity. They plant you right in the present moment. Instead of the past or future.
Experiment and find what works best for you.
There’s so much you can do (and not do) to break old, destructive habits. We wrote this post to give you a glimpse at some steps you can take.
Remember your environment plays a big role in habits. And even if you think you can’t change a habit… that it’s just the “way you are”… know that you CAN.
Start small. Don’t expect changes overnight. Don’t force it. Be kind to yourself.
Most importantly, be aware and mindful of what you do.
And that’s how you’ll make positive, long-term changes in your life.
Are there any strategies you use to change or identify bad habits? Share in the comments below!