Whether it’s binge eating chocolate, biting your nails, or a deeper personal challenge, habits are tough to break. Why? Because we crave and enjoy habitual actions. You have dozens, maybe even hundreds, of habits, most of which you probably never notice. It starts the moment you wake up — you get out of bed in a certain way and probably head to the bathroom where you start a morning routine. Think about how effortlessly you slip into your habits and how little you have to think while in the midst of these daily routines.
Then there are the bad habits, which you definitely notice. The same way you go from bed to bathroom to kitchen, your bad habits are so ingrained they become semi-automatic. This is why breaking the small, repetitive sins can be so difficult; it takes awareness and some serious dedication. Up for the challenge? Use these tips and tricks to beat the cycle.
1. Be aware
The first step isn’t to try to stop your bad habits, it’s to watch and observe yourself. Notice when you get sucked into your usual action. Is it after a stressful conversation with your parents? After you’ve survived a hard day at work? If you notice when you’re doing it, you’ll be able to determine what circumstances led you there and what emotions are attached to the action. This step isn’t about judging yourself — it’s all about trying to understand what situations, emotions, or people instigate the habit.
2. Break the cycle
Once you understand when and why you give in to these chronic actions, you’ll have the ammo needed to fight them. Habits are loops we repeat automatically. A cue triggers your routine, you give yourself the reward (aka bad habit), and repeat. Once you’re aware of your cue, you can replace the bad habit with a good one. Say you reward yourself with a soda at 3 p.m. every workday. When the clock hits your set time, grab a hot cup of tea instead. Your brain will still get its reward, but in a different form.
3. Control your environment
When you’re working to quit a bad habit or replace it with a good one, you may be extremely sensitive to outside influences. If you’re trying to quit eating sugar and your neighbor fills up their candy bowl, you may have a harder time staying on track. To make things easier on yourself, establish an environment that makes desirable behaviors easy and undesirable behaviors more difficult. Stock your desk with unsweetened dried fruits, grapes, or something naturally sugary, so you’ll have something else to turn to when the candy bowl makes an appearance.
4. Prep for setbacks
As much as you want to kill your bad habit, chances are good you’re going to slip up at some point. Setbacks are a natural and typical occurrence when you’re trying to change deep-rooted habits. Don’t expect perfection. Rather, be prepared for setbacks and create a plan for how you’re going to get back on track when they happen. Note what took place during the day that led you astray, analyze why the situation or emotion led you to your old habit, and make a plan to start fresh the next day.
5. Go easy on yourself
If going cold turkey or using the replacement method doesn’t work, try the tier method. This strategy encourages you to ween yourself off your bad habit slowly. For example, if you typically smoke eight to 10 cigarettes a day, cut back to four or five for a period of time until you’re accustomed to the new, more limited allowance. When you feel ready, cut the number of daily cigarettes in half again. Using this method allows your brain and body to slowly become accustomed to the change.