• Eve Arnold

How to Break a Bad Habit — Tut tut tut


Whether it be biting your nails, drinking so much coffee you can barely see, or that mid-day snack to get you through the day — we all have bad habits. They range from the really bad to the mildly acceptable. But it’s safe to say we all have habits that we want to dehabit ourselves from (I don’t think dehabit is a word FYI).

So, in order to dehabit ourselves (not a word) we need to understand what a habit is. So as previously discussed, a habit is something that we do religiously, something that is hard to give up. We know it’s a three step process (cue, routine, reward). Cue being something that alerts us to do the habit, routine being the practice of the habit itself and the reward being the ‘thing’ you get from the habit. So, for your 11am snack it’s the clock turning 11am (cue), the eating of your Snickers bar (routine), then the sugar-rush and satisfaction (reward).

So, in order to break habits, the research shows that we need to hack that system. You need to make it a habit change rather than trying to restrain yourself from eating a Snickers as it turns 11am. So, it turns 11am and instead of sitting on your hands for the next five minutes and hoping the desire would subside, the best advice (according to the literature) is that you get up and go for a walk. Or you get up and go get a coffee or glass of water. Basically you need to ‘do’ something at 11am to trick yourself that you are doing the habit.

By doing something at 11am, you hack yourself into thinking you are doing the habit without actually doing it. The other thing you need to be aware of as, we, as humans have a limit on our will-power. Willpower is a little like a muscle in that when we over work it, the lactic acid will flood the muscle and you won’t be able to lift your arm for the last rep of bicep curls (I have no idea about gym stuff). So with that in mind, you need to make sure you don’t use up all your willpower because when it comes from restraining from having that seventh coffee. What might be a good idea is that if you are trying to break the habit of smoking when you drink or watching five hours of Netflix every night (we are all human) then don’t go to the bar or as soon as you get in, do something that is going to mean you can’t sit down.

All habits are a series of steps that have been hardwired into your brain to complete.

The research says you shouldn’t try to pull the chord on every single habit we do instead we should look at the habits we’re trying to change and one-by-one (because willpower is a finite source) change that routine bit in the middle. All the while remembering that if you’re trying to quit smoking and you always sit in a pub and smoke, be going to the pub your putting yourself in a bit of a tricky situation. It’s the same as wanting to change your diet to eating slightly healthy and filling the cupboard with Snickers, asking yourself to avoid a Snickers bar every time you go into the cupboard is quite harsh, they are delicious after all. But by just not buying them when you go shopping you use less willpower and are more likely to change the habit.

Originally published at https://www.careerhealth.info on February 24, 2020.

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