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Breaking your habits down into these fundamental categories can help you understand what a habit is, how it works, and how you can break it. This is known as the habit loop. Primarily, a cue is developed, which, when activated, triggers a craving.
The craving then motivates a response, which provides your brain with a reward, which satisfies the desire, and ultimately becomes associated with the cue. Together, these four things end up forming a neurological feedback loop that eventually allows you to develop automatic habits.
Fortunately, there are many ways that you can destroy your bad habits and keep them away for good. Which one works best will depend entirely on your individual circumstances and specific inclinations.
1. Quit Cold Turkey
You can eliminate bad habits by not indulging in them, not even for one day, starting now. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done. It can be incredibly challenging to get rid of a bad habit because it is deeply ingrained in your brain.
When the bad habit’s trigger repeats, it can quickly reignite the old behavior. This is the greatest weakness in this particular method. Often, when an old pattern or behavior recurs, when you slip back into your old bad habit just once, you tend to make a huge fuss over it, and you feel like you wasted all of your time being abstinent.
You end up becoming crushed by self-disappointment that when you slip just once and return to your old habit, you completely slip back into your old ways. However, there is a power to such an approach. If you can quit cold turkey and persevere in your resolve, you can prove to yourself that you are entirely capable of making changes.
2. Change Your Habit Loop
Recent studies discovered that habits are stored in the brain in a different way than more standard memories. Typically, your emotion triggers a behavior that ends when the emotional urge has been satisfied when it comes to your habits.
There are twofold repercussions to these findings. First, if your habits are hardcoded in your mind, it means they are impossible to remove. This means that once those habits have been formed, they will stay with you for the rest of your life, which is why drug addicts and alcoholics relapse into their addictions, sometimes after decades of sobriety.
Second, there isn’t any such thing as getting rid of your old habits. Instead, you have to overwrite the bad habit with a new routine. The most efficient method for achieving this is by reprogramming the behavior. However, you have to make the new habit stronger than the old habit if you want it to stick.
Fortunately, by changing your habit loop, you can more easily solidify the new behavior, which will make it much more difficult for you to return to the old habit.
3. Use Small Steps
Using small steps to overcome a bad habit is a combination of quitting cold turkey and changing your habit loop, as discussed above. While you disagree with your bad habit, you also freely admit that you cannot quit your habit cold turkey.
This makes it necessary to analyze your behaviors and identify your triggers. When you can accomplish these two tasks, you can gradually limit your bad habit. For example, if you are trying to break the habit of eating poorly, you can start small by indulging in fewer sweets. With each passing week, you need to reach another milestone in eliminating your bad habit from your life.
After enough time has passed and you've continually worked toward making small changes in your habit, you will finally arrive at a point when you can completely stop engaging in your bad behavior automatically. Theoretically, with this method, you should be less prone to feeling discouraged when you slip. You have to assume some failure with this method but are better equipped to keep your motivation. This method is much more convenient for those who can quantify their bad habits.
4. Track Your Progress to Reinforce Your Determination
While this isn't necessarily a method for breaking a bad habit per se, it is beneficial in every instance of getting rid of a bad habit. In the above method of taking small steps toward getting rid of your bad habit, the approach is relatively apparent. If you are about to restrict yourself by having only a few cigarettes, you need to track the number.
When you change your habit loop, it is also a great idea to start tracking what isn’t working. At the bare minimum, tracking your progress comes down to checking whether or not you engaged in your bad habit that day. You can also use the tracking method when using the cold turkey method of eliminating bad habits.
When you quit your bad habit, you should be counting the days without the behavior or habit and try to build a streak that motivates you to keep going. When you find yourself clean for a single day, and you haven't been in years, it can be incredibly blissful. The second day that you add to the chain feels like an event worthy of a celebration.
Then comes the joy of going a week, later a month, then the first year. These kinds of milestones can provide you with a sense of accomplishment, even though you aren't really doing anything other than abstaining from engaging in a habit, which is the whole point of this particular method.
What's more, tracking your progress works in the same way as building your good habits. It focuses your attention on the essential things and provides you with the motivation to keep moving forward. It can also provide you with valuable data points that can help you to identify your pitfalls and critical points.
5. Focus on Your Good Habits
This method will ultimately kill your bad habits by starving them. Getting rid of bad habits focuses your attention on the negative aspects of your life. It can end up feeling incredibly restrictive rather than liberating. When you focus on eliminating bad habits, you watch yourself and end up denying yourself the pleasures you’re used to having in your life.
While you know that it is better to avoid engaging in your bad habits in the long run, those bad behaviors are a part of who you are, whether you like it or not. They were the mechanisms you used to relieve stress and help you cope with anxiety and low self-esteem. Without them, your life might seem to be less bearable.
So, instead of focusing on your bad behaviors and what you can’t do, you should focus on new activities that contribute to your life in a more positive way. To break your bad habits, funnel all of your energy into habits that will improve your experience rather than avoiding what is wrong with it. While your bad habits will continue to lurk in the depths of your brain, the only time they will resurface is if you lower your guard.
When it comes to eliminating bad habits from your life, it is essential to remember that you are about to embark on a long and challenging journey. You will continually be tempted to return to your old ways and risk succumbing to your old habits.
While these methods will help you break your bad habits, you must remember that the temptation to fall back into your old ways will always be there. Don’t continue to let your bad habits dictate your life. Take the first positive steps toward changing your bad habits today and start living a happier and healthier life now.