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Top 3 Ways to Break a Habit

break a habit

Top 3 Ways to Break a Habit

By Antonietta Marinelli | July 23, 2021

Habits can be both positive and negative. Some habits allow us to be more productive and creative whereas others can be counterproductive leaving us procrastinating and not being able to fill all the tasks in which we set out for ourselves.

Stanford University, Psychology professor Russell Poldark indicates that the brain attempts to identify ways in which to conserve energy and habits become an adaptive feature of how our brain works. For example, when you drive to work it’s unlikely you spend too much time considering whether you should turn left or right at each intersection as over time the choices you make and direction you take become habit.

Since habits take practice and repetition to form, the same is true when it comes to breaking them, says Elliot Berkman, Director or University of Oregon’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab. A 2010 study published in The European Journal of Social Psychology found that the average days to change behavior is 66 and as you can imagine, breaking a habit can be difficult, especially if you have been engaging in them for a long time (Raypole, 2019). Understanding how a habit is formed is an important step towards breaking it.

To eliminate habits – whatever they may be – consider employing the following strategies:

1. Replace a Bad Habit With a Good One

A mistake we end up making is trying to stop a habit. We fixate on stopping a certain habit, which then backfires (based on personal experience). Berkman says that instead of stopping a habit, we should start a new one. Studies have shown that the more you suppress your thoughts, the more likely you are to think about that thought, or even revert to it (Erskine et al, 2010).

An example of replacing a habit:
Habit to change:Waking up and checking your phone
Replace with: Writing down 3 things you want to achieve in your day

2. Identifying Your Triggers

Triggers are the first step in developing a habit and identifying what these triggers are is the first step in moving past them. When identifying triggers note down the following:

  • Where or when does the habitual behavior happen?
  • How do I feel when it happens?
  • Are other people involved?

3. Reminders Are Key

Write it down, type it out or even draw a picture. Whatever works for you to keep you on you’re A-game, do it. Using little reminders are great to have whenever the habit happens. It is a great way to be reminded of the habit and to re-think the action when something triggers you.

And remember, forming a new habit to replace or remove a new one is never easy, and it takes great effort and time, so do not be discouraged if it does not magically form overnight.

References:

• Erskine, J. A. K., Georgiou, G. J. and Kvavilashvili, L. (2010) ‘I Suppress, Therefore I Smoke: Effects of Thought Suppression on Smoking Behavior’, Psychological Science, 21(9), pp. 1225–1230. doi: 10.1177/0956797610378687. [Accessed 22 July 2021]
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797610378687

• Lally, P., Cornelia H.M., Jaarsveld V., Potts H. W. W., Wardle J. 2009. How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, pp. 998 – 1009. Doi: 10.1002/ejsp.674. [Accessed 22 July 2021]
https://repositorio.ispa.pt/bitstream/10400.12/3364/1/IJSP_998-1009.pdf

• Raypole, C. 2019. How to Break a Habit (and Make It Stick). Healthline. [Accessed 22 July 2021]
https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-break-a-habit

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