Find out how to implement the 3 key steps to getting rid of bad habits and cementing new ones.
We’ve all got bad habits that we’d like to eradicate from our lives. However getting rid of them in isolation can be almost impossible. A far smarter strategy is to pair the bad habit that you want to get rid of with a corresponding good habit that you can replace it with.
Let’s consider a simple 3-step method to allow you to do exactly that.
How Habits Work
There are three steps to the creation of habits:
- The Trigger
- The Behavior
- The Reward
Your brain will soon understand that if it sees the cue, and does the action it will get the reward. When you think about it, switching from a bad habit to a good habit doesn’t have to require changing all three of these steps. If you stick with the same trigger and reward but simply switch out the action in the middle, you should, theoretically, be able to transform a bad habit into a good habit.
Let’s consider an example to see how this might work in practice:
You’re at work and it comes to your lunch break. Everyone else automatically heads outside for a cigarette break. But you are trying to break the smoking habit, you head out for a 10 minute walk in the fresh air.
We see that the cue remains the same- the lunch bell. The activity changes. But the reward, getting out of the work environment and relaxing the mind remains the same. You also get the extra benefit of fresh air, which you can’t exactly claim on a cigarette break!
Changing a Bad Habit
Let’s stick with the bad habit of smoking to analyse the change process in a little more detail.
There are all sorts of cues for a person to light up a cigarette. These might include going outside, being stressed or just being bored. The first step to conquering your bad habit is to write down all of the cues that lead you to reaching for a cigarette.
Next, you need to find a replacement habit that is somewhat similar but better for you. An example would be to pop a piece of gum into your mouth. This makes sense when it comes to defeating the smoking habit because research tells us that the smoking habit has a lot to do with fixation on the mouth. You are breathing in and out and holding the cigarette between your lips. So, replacing it with an activity that is also mouth-centric like chewing gum makes sense.
The replacement activity needs to also provide a reward. This might require a bit of thinking. You need to be careful because people often replace one bad habit with another. A common one is to go from smoking to eating. This results in excess calorie consumption and weight gain.
One strategy that you could utilize is to put aside the money that you would have previously spent on cigarettes to provide a tangible reward. If you used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, at an average cost of $6.50 per pack, that’s a little under $50 a week that you’ll be able to put aside. Maybe you can take your partner out for a restaurant meal once a fortnight or go put for a movie and pizza. Even though the reward will not be immediate when you are replacing the habit, it will still be powerful to provide the positive reinforcement that you need to succeed.
The Power of Distraction
We often fall into our bad habits because we are bored. Whether it’s smoking, drinking or overeating, we simply want to have something to do with our hands and our mouths. We can counter this impulse by finding creative new things to do with our hands . One very useful habit is to take up knitting. This piece of advice is just as relevant for guys as it is for girls. Knitting is a challenging mental activity that will fully engage you while it keeps your hands occupied. As well as being a great way to ward off bad habits, it has also shown to be a very effective brain booster.
Bad habits also come to the fore when we are stressed. So, having alternative strategies at these times will help prevent you falling back into them. An obvious replacement activity for times when you feel stressed is exercise. This has proven to be a natural stress releaser. It also produces feel good hormones and generally makes you feel good about yourself. On top of that, the last thing you are going to want to do after a workout is to put bad substances like tobacco, alcohol or junk food into your body.
The strategies we’ve outlined here can be used by anyone to break out of a bad habit and replace it with a habit that is actually good for you. But it won’t happen overnight. You will need to be committed, disciplined and consistent for a number of weeks to make progress. But then, when you’ve got that new habit cemented in there, it will be with you for life!