Why Bad Habits are so Easy to Make and so Hard to Break
We all have good and bad habits, but it’s the bad ones that threaten to disrupt our health, our work and our relationships. By their very nature, these habits are hard to break – but psychologists and neuroscientists alike are working to crack the software in our heads that is responsible for these damaging behaviors.
When we spend an estimated forty percent of the time not thinking about what we’re doing, it takes an objective appraisal of our habits to begin the journey to a cure. Our routine actions are buried deep, so taking a few days to adjust to the idea of a forthcoming change of behavior can make your more consistently aware of your habits once you start to work on them.
Often, habits are best approached from the outside. A change of scenery can make you more aware of your habitual behavior by putting it in a new context. On a psychological level, you are divorcing yourself from the cues and rewards that usually reinforce those undesirable habits. Setting alarms and reminders, or placing notices around the environment where the habit usually occurs, can draw your attention to behaviors that normally pass without notice – and give you a chance to censor them.
If all else fails, instead of quitting the habit – switch it. If chewing your nails is an issue, give your hands something else to do, such as squeezing a stress ball. Smokers can make a note of when their cigarette breaks usually materialize, and pre-empt falling into habitual behavior by moving to a smoke-free area or making a hot drink when they would usually be lighting up.
As Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, says: “once you tell people about the cue and the reward and you force them to recognize what those factors are in a behavior, it becomes much, much easier to change.” This infographic provides a step-by-step guide to identifying the triggers that keep you coming back for more – and dealing with them with purpose and resolve.
- Gross, T. and Duhigg, C. (2012). Habits: how they form and how to break them. npr.org
- Duhigg, C. (2016). How Habits Work. charlesduhigg.com
- Castillo, S. (2014). How Habits Are Formed, And Why They’re So Hard To Change. medicaldaily.com
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