Hey Gemmers, it's another Monday again so it's time for your weekly dose of #MondaySelfcare vitamins with your friendly Dr O! Today your prescription would be on how to break your bad habits and it will largely based on the New York Times best-selling book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (click the title to check it out) which is an awesome book which I highly recommend as I pointed out in my post 8 Self-help or Inspirational Book Recommendations. Please Like, Share, Comment and Subscribe (to get my free e-book on how to deal with indecision). Watch out for my next free e-book Five Key Habits to Success coming soon! Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Let's goo!
Introduction to Habits
The world was buzzing on Saturday when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had their Royal Wedding and became newlyweds, making them the Duke & Duchess of Sussex. This brought about different reactions on social media from the hateful and racist to the critical and to the supportive and funny and these in a way are all habits. My usual habit is just to look and retweet or like, I don’t have time for social commentary. For others, it presented an avenue for them to take shots at each other or the opposite gender. The most prevalent reaction on my timeline was definitely that of desire and want, which can be a good or bad habit, really and truly. The truth is that we all have good and bad habits some more than others, ranging from the productive to the admirable to the self-destructive to the annoying and to the embarrassing.
What is a habit?
A habit is a repeated behavioural pattern or action which after performed for a certain period of time becomes automatic and can be done without conscious effort.
Components of a habit
Duhigg identifies 3 components of the habit loop which is cue (what triggers or kick starts the habit), routine (the action you take) and reward ( what you get from how you get from taking the action). He also mentions a 4th component which is a craving (what consistently drives a habit) but this later comes in play. For example, when you want to brush your teeth the cue can be when you see your brush or tooth paste then you proceed to brush your teeth (routine) and then you get the feeling of a fresh breath (reward) but you only confirm this when you get that minty taste (craving). Duhigg says how toothpaste doesn’t need to have that minty taste but that’s what we crave when most of us brush and that mint taste is like a reward for a job well done. I can confirm this, there was a time I bought teeth whitening carbon which is basically grinded charcoal and after brushing with it I still felt the need to brush with toothpaste and not only just to get the charcoal taste out of my mouth. You can confirm this when you manage to squeeze the last drops of toothpaste to brush because you forgot to buy toothpaste. Don’t you feel like you barely brushed?
What is responsible for habit retention?
Located at the base of the forebrain we have the basal ganglia which according to Wikipedia are responsible for voluntary motor movements, procedural learning, routine behaviours (habits) and emotion. So, when next you’re catching feelings instead of flights you know who to blame haha.
Habits are so strong that Duhigg shows in his book they can still function well even in an unhealthy brain. He extensively talks about a man who couldn’t retain anything as soon as you told him, he’ll forget but whenever he wandered off outside he always found his way home even if he didn’t know it was his house.
Good vs Bad Habits
Did you know that your brain doesn’t distinguish between good and bad habits? In some way all habits have a benefit to you. For example, smoking can provide you with a way to release some stress or frustration. A study of 96 people published in The European Journal of Social Psychology found it took on average 66 days to form a habit, such as eating fruit at lunch or running for 15 minutes a day. In the study, the actual number of days ranged from 18 to 254 days, this means that habit forming can take a shorter or longer time! If habit forming can take almost 9 months, someone would’ve given birth before some habits finally stick lol. Habit forming isn’t quick dry cement but I believe that bad habits take a shorter time and are much easier to take on than a good ones and it's also easier to stop good habits. Think about it…it’s easier to procrastinate than to get to work! It’s easier to overeat than to work out. Habits can be used against us by companies to keep us coming back to them such as shopping and eating habits see The Power of Habit for a more extensive outlook into this.
Bad habits interrupt your life and could stop you from reaching your full potential or accomplishing your goals. They could endanger your physical and/or mental health and THEY WASTE YOUR TIME & ENERGY. These habits are not in black and white and they can range from the mild such as not doing dishes on time to the addictive such as smoking. Some habits we may not even realise are bad like watching TV and eating (I have a friend who said he can’t eat without watching something) or even spending way too much time on our phones. Personally, I’m mostly guilty of spending too much time on my phone which I prefer to call the ‘endless scroll’; I get on my phone any time of the day and I check Facebook, move on to WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter (follow me though haha), or I get on YouTube or watch anime or shows on my browser. It’s like I rented a cool place that I don’t like to leave or like to go back to very frequently. It’s a particularly hard habit to break but one temporary fix is to turn off your notifications so you don’t feel the sense of immediacy anymore.
According to Fortune, to change these bad habits, friends and therapists might say you simply have to make it your goal, and down the road – if you just try hard enough – you will get rid of them. However, extensive research in the science of motivation has shown that there is a wide disparity between having the goal of controlling one’s bad habits and actually doing so. This is true for bad habits relating to all aspects of life such as health, wealth, work or even one’s social life. I mean, how many times have you tried to rid yourself of a bad habit only for you to give up?
Causes of Bad Habits
According to James Clear, most of bad habits are caused by two things… stress and boredom but I'll like to add a third factor which is influence or environment. Think about it, didn’t the university stress get to you so you started smoking or didn’t you start nail biting because you felt bored out of your mind? Zoey from one of the episodes of Grown-ish put it this way that everyone is college has their thing which they use to ‘cope’ and get through college…well when you watch the episode you find out all these things they use to cope are destructive habits such as smoking, doing drugs etc. Of course, some of these bad habits can be just symptoms of deep-rooted issues but to really get out of it you’ll have to deal with these issues for more permanent results. For example, did you start smoking because you don’t know how to say no to peer pressure? Or what other factor could leave you in the abyss of bad habits? Your limiting beliefs or fear? You have to be able to determine the causes of your bad habit for more permanent results.
How to Break Bad Habits
Robert Taibbi from Psychology Today said that habits are hard to break due to their nature and hard-wiring and when they’re mixed with pleasure like in the case of drugs the pleasure centres of the midbrain get fired up and continue to fire long after the habits stop, creating the cravings that people struggle with. It’s important to know that YOU DON’T KILL OFF A BAD HABIT, YOU SIMPLY REPLACE IT. The key is to keep the same cue and reward but to change the routine.
An addiction or a habit?
According to Blackmores before breaking a bad habit you should determine whether it’s a habit or an addiction. When you’ve determined this, it saves you time and spares you the stress of trying to get rid of the wrong thing. Obviously, addictions such as gambling, smoking, doing drugs or alcoholism are harder to break because your pleasure centres are so fired up and very much enjoy these habits. The best way to tell them apart is to ask yourself some simple questions. “Can I live without this habit and, if I break the habit, will it cause any physical changes to my body?” When breaking addictions, your body may go through physiological withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, sweating or nausea and vomiting. Ordinary bad habits are usually easier to change while addictions will take longer and may require professional assistance.
Let’s dive in properly now into how to break bad habits
1. Determine the Concrete Behaviour You Want to Change or Develop: Taibbi said getting more exercise or treating your partner better may sound great but they give you little to mentally or behaviourally grasp onto. They aren’t specific enough and could mean any number of things. To break habits you need about specific, small, doable and targeted behaviours like staying 10 minutes without using your phone when working or doing 5 push-ups in the morning or sending a complimentary text to your partner during your lunch break. Using facts as motivators are not really weak options, cigarette packs have all kinds of warnings against smoking them but yet tobacco companies make millions of dollars if not billions on a yearly basis. According Reader's digest to change, you also need the support of your heart and soul. Only when your desire to end a habit is deep and strong will you have the drive and willpower to succeed. So seek deeper, more emotional reasons to make the change. Ponder the future you want, and the joys that await you. Let them motivate you to act.
2. Identify the Cues of the Habit: As I said before, the first component of a habit is a cue. It could be things like your thoughts, what you see, who you’re with, your location or even the time. This isn’t easily determined sometimes because your habit may have several cues and you might need to experiment sometimes.
3. Choose a Substitute for Your Bad Habit: After identifying the cues of the habit you need to also identify the reward. After you've determined this then according to James Clear, you need to have a plan ahead of time for how you will respond when you face the cues that trigger your bad habit. This plan is known as an "if-then" plan and we'll expand on this on the next point. What are you going to do when you get the urge to smoke? You can do breathing exercises instead. What are you going to do when Facebook is screaming use me! use me! When you're at work? You can write one sentence for work. Whatever it is and whatever you're dealing with, you need to have a plan for what you will do instead of your bad habit.
4. Use an “If-then” plan: According to Mayo Oshin, breaking a bad habit and permanently sticking to a good one needs a proper action plan. This is where the “if-then” plan comes into play.
An “if-then” strategy requires you to be as specific as possible on where and when you will take a given action. This idea was first introduced by Peter Gollwitzer, a psychology professor at New York University, in 1999. His extensive research on “implementation intentions” showed that people who use the “if-then” strategy could double the odds of achieving their goals.
How to create your “if-then” plan.
i: As previously discussed, identify the cues for your bad habit. For example, your friend offers you a glass of vodka.
ii: Specify a different response to the trigger. Ideally, this should be a good habit that would replace and prevent you from falling into the temptation. For example, you ask for a glass of water because water is good for you instead of vodka.
iii: Combine steps 1 and 2 into an “if-then” format i.e. “ If on Saturday evening my friend offers me a vodka, then I will ask for a glass of water instead.”
Using this plan makes it easier to react to your cravings and replace them with a good one because of the prepared automatic response. This may seem too simple and small at first, but, overtime you’ll notice how effective it can be in helping you to break a bad habit as long as you stick to it.
5. Focus on One Habit at a Time: Trying to break multiple bad habits at a time is the fastest road to get to frustration. Trying to jack-of-all-trades them will obviously cause you stress, this is part of why new year’s resolutions don’t work. According to DevelopGoodHabits, there is something in psychology called ego depletion which means your willpower has its daily limits. When it's gone beyond its limits, it becomes hard to control impulses. In a way, willpower is like a muscle. It can get tired and worn out from too much use. If your days are filled with stress and constant battles to control your emotions or thinking, you often won’t have the capacity to resist temptations. How does this affect habit development? It’s simple. You won’t succeed if you try to change multiple habits at the same time. Each one requires a significant amount of willpower to resist, which to be honest can leave you tired. Most people don’t have enough willpower to break multiple bad habits. So, when they’re in a depleted state, it becomes too easy to give up on all of them, instead of just one.
6. Remember HALT: This is expanding off the previous point. Kelly Walsh from Mindful magazine said when you get a deeply personal reason to prompt you to make a habit change ("I should" isn’t a strong reason)—then begins the work of strengthening your ability to choose differently (willpower). For example, you might want to stop drinking because it makes you hurt your loved ones verbally or physically. If you’ve tried to diet or exercise consistently then you know that there are many factors that can weaken your willpower. This is when psychologist Christopher Willard recommends employing the acronym HALT. When you feel your willpower is weakening, Willard suggests, ask yourself if you’re feeling any of the following:
i. Hungry: Impulse control is a complex task for the brain to carry out and we do have a lot of impulses, imagine how many the brain has prevented us from carrying out. When you’re hungry it slows down this function, making it difficult to activate your willpower. In a nutshell, you can’t fight the good fight on an empty stomach. How many of us can pull a Gandhi and go on a prolonged hunger strike?
ii. Angry/Anxious: When we feel angry or anxious our bodies can slip into fight-or-flight mode [see Easy Ways to Approach Public Speaking or Presentation]. In this mode, some of the rational parts of our brain shut down, and the voice of reason goes out the window and does our ability to consider the long-term consequences of our actions. This is especially true for annoying or embarrassing situations, if you’re a nail-biter you may begin to bite your nails when put in such situations. When you’re angry or anxious, it’s advisable to take some slow and deep breaths to calm you down and bring you back to a more rational state.
iii. Lonely: When we tell other people about a commitment to change a habit, we’re far more likely to follow through. If you tell enough people, you may feel a sense of responsibility and accountability especially when people are counting on you. Introvert or extrovert, you need to find a balance between being alone and being with others. Consider what is the best balance for you, and share your goals only as widely as you feel comfortable.
iv. Tired: When we’re tired ego depletion can set in which will wear down our self-control and willpower. We all know it’s harder to do anything when you’re tired or sleepy. Apparently, a poor night’s sleep can even knock you down a few IQ points (imagine how many IQ points many of us have lost lol). Establishing healthy sleep habits is not only integral to your self-care, it’s also essential for your deeper goals.
7. Change Your Environment: Melanie Pinola said over time, if you do the same behaviors in the same place, your surroundings can become a cue and may be too subtle to notice. For example, do you always have your smoke break in the same place? Try changing your surroundings in even the smallest way, if you wanna go on a smoke break try going to a different place and see. She says you can apply the 20-Second Rule which means delaying the start of your bad habits by 20 seconds. For example, keep your phone away from your bed so when you wake up you can’t easily get to it. Environment also applies to the people around you. Influence or peer pressure can really affect you and may make or break you. Jim Rohn said you're the sum of the 5 people you hang around the most; so if you want to break your bad habit try hanging around people that have the good habit you're trying to replace it with.
8. Get a partner: This could be a last resort kinda thing or even a first resort depending on your person. Many of us have been down the road where we try to break a bad habit alone and well, we were taken right back to square one! How many new year’s resolutions later and I’ve still not got that Anthony Joshua or Michael B. Jordan body! Sometimes, we try to break these habits in private so if we ‘fail’ no one’s gonna know. Instead, pair up with someone and try again. Both of you can hold each other accountable and celebrate your victories together. Knowing that someone else expects you to be better is a powerful motivator. It’s even a stronger motivator when you have something at stake; humans are more willing to avoid pain than seek pleasure. So, you can put a hefty but realistic fine on your partner in case of non-compliance and vice versa. There was a time in April 2017 where me and my boys went to the gym 6-7 days straight and we used to try and outdo each other, that feeling is unrivalled!
Belief: This is very much needed for the harder times and based on what Duhigg wrote most of the people who finally quit alcoholism or whatever believed in a higher power especially when things got harder and they wanted to relapse. The truth is that many have wanted to give up some bad habits especially addictive ones and when they go through hard times like a breakup or death of a loved one or some other form of loss they relapse and it's not like these habits ever go away so when you indulge once again well, it's a lot of work to get out of it. So you need a strong belief in yourself or in a higher power that you'll make it through even in hard times because hard times will come!
There are many more ways to break bad habits but let know in the comments if you want a part 2. Make sure to check out Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit to get more extensive steps on how to break bad habits. Look out for my book recommendations post on Wednesday to give you more options for books on this topic. Also, comment below any bad habits you have and are willing to share and better still how you broke a pesky bad habit you had.
QOTD: “All bad habits start slowly and gradually and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you" -Zig Ziglar.
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My name is Ofai and I'm passionate about blogging and it gives me fulfillment that I can help you out so sit back, relax and enjoy your weekly carats of #SelfImprovementGems with me!