In my last blog I wrote about addiction versus habit. Habits can be positive or negative. This article explores what makes a bad habit form and how we can overcome them. Wikipedia describes a bad habit as: ‘a negative behaviour pattern. Common examples include procrastination, fidgeting, overspending, stereotyping, gossips, bullying, and nail-biting.’ Many bad habits are harmless enough whilst others can have a deeper impact, potentially leading to addiction.
How do habits form?
In his book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg explains that every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a “habit loop”. The loop consists of a cue or trigger, routine and then reward. The cue/trigger tells our brain to go into automatic mode. This can be something such as always reaching for a cigarette when you wake up or making a cup of coffee. It’s a behaviour that neuroscientists have identified as being made in the basal ganglia part of the brain. The smoking of the cigarette then becomes the routine behaviour without really making the decision to do it. The reward comes from the satisfaction of performing the habit, whether it be a good or bad one.
Breaking bad habits
There are many suggestions on the Internet, giving advice on how to break a bad habit. The first step must be acknowledging the bad habit and being committed to change. The desire must truly be there! Having done that, a plan of action is required, identifying the trigger point. Moving away from your normal routine is often the best time to work on breaking a bad habit. A holiday is the perfect example, where your daily routine completely changes and therefore your trigger points too.
The path to success isn’t an easy one and slipping up is inevitable. If that happens, evaluate why you reverted to norm, to help you understand your weaknesses and remind yourself of your trigger point. Then get back to your plan to breakthrough to success. If need be, set yourself consequences for failure, making sure you have shared this with someone else so as not to let yourself off the punishment.
During the process of breaking a bad habit, it can be helpful to create a new good one. For example, if you are quitting smoking, each time you feel the urge to go for a cigarette, use the time to walk up down flights of stairs. Remember to reward yourself for your achievements to help consolidate the new behaviour. Save the money you are no longer spending and you will very quickly have enough cash for a high-end treat, such as a weekend away or those fabulous new shoes you’ve had your eyes on.
Visualisation is another technique used to get you through those challenging moments, when you are ready to cave in. That chilled bottle of wine in the fridge or slab of chocolate you are craving will make you feel good for a short period of time, but it won’t help you with your goal for a beach body. My mother used to put pictures of her in a bikini on things like the biscuit tin or the cheese box. It was enough to stop her in her tracks when tempted so that she could remind herself of what she wanted to achieve and steer her back in the right direction.
So how long does it take to break an existing habit or create a new one? Research varies greatly on this but more recent studies indicate anything between 18 and 245 days. It very much depends on factors such as the individual, what the habit is and available support. It is kind of an irrelevant question because if you last 30 days and think you’ve cracked it, only for the habit to rear it’s ugly head again, then you didn’t give it enough time and need to start over. Some habits may well loiter for the rest of your life and therefore an ongoing awareness is required. A smoker could break the habit for years, only to smoke a cigarette again under the false sense of security of having broken it. Next thing they know, the behaviour is triggered and they are back to where they started. As an ex-smoker, I was never addicted and knew it was the habit that kept me smoking. I made the mistake of thinking I could have the odd cigarette on my several attempts to finally breaking the cycle and becoming a non-smoker for almost eleven years now.
Part of life
Habits are a fundamental part of daily life. It’s what allows us to do more than one thing at the same time, such as driving and having a conversation. Our habits and how we break them are individual to us. Whilst we often form them without realising it, we do have the control and power to change them. As Zig Ziglar said: “All bad habits start slowly and gradually and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you.” Whether that hold on you remains is entirely up to you!
About the author: Stuart Dickson’s passion for personal development began in September 2013, when he joined a Network Marketing Company. Part of his development is increasing his spirituality and the many ways of doing this. His first blog, Happy Monday People was born from a project that came about from his personal development journey facebook.com/Happylifepeople