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If you stretch out in front of the TV after your tea and biscuits and wish you would start to exercise and eat better, you have not yet formed the habit to allow you to make the change. Your donut eating, TV watching habit is stronger, and will kick in automatically for you, even though you really want to change.
What does it mean to have a Habit?
A habit is something that you can perform automatically, without thinking about it too much. Things like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed for work, and following the same routes every day without thinking about them.
A bad habit is a habitual behavior considered to be detrimental to one’s physical or mental health and often linked to a lack of self-control. Habits that are typically seen as “bad” include smoking, nail-biting, procrastinating, being Short-tempered, telling lies, Lack of hygiene, sleeping late and swearing.
Why is it easy to gain bad habits but hard to gain good ones?
If you know something’s bad for you, why can’t you just stop? Drug and alcohol abusers struggle to give up addictions that hurt their bodies and tear apart families and friendships. And many of us have unhealthy excess weight that we could lose if only we would eat right and exercise more. So why don’t we do it?
Enjoyable behaviors can prompt your brain to release a chemical called dopamine. When you do something over and over, and dopamine is there when you’re doing it, that strengthens the habit even more. When you’re not doing those things, dopamine creates the craving to do it again, this is why some people crave drugs, even if the drug no longer makes them feel particularly good once they take it.
Our brains work on a trigger and reward basis—the so-called “habit loop”—which means it is easy to slip into a routine and difficult to fight back when the undesired behavior occurs.
Because bad habits provide some type of benefit in your life, it’s very difficult to simply eliminate them. (This is why simplistic advice like “just stop doing it” rarely works.) Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit.
Most bad habits are caused by one of two things: being stressed or bored.
Most of the time, bad habits are simply a way of dealing with stress and/or boredom. Everything from overeating to overspending on a shopping spree to drinking every weekend to wasting time on the internet can be a simple response to stress and boredom.
We all have habits. These habits can be grouped into three categories. The first group are the habits that we simply don’t notice because they have been part of our lives forever—like tying shoelaces or eating with utensils. The second are habits that are good for us and which we work hard on establishing—like exercising, eating well or getting enough sleep. The final group are the habits that are bad for us—like smoking, procrastinating or overspending .
Breaking habits is hard. We all know this, whether we’ve failed our latest diet (again), or felt the pull to refresh our Instagram feed instead of making progress on a work project that is past due.
Willpower alone is not enough. There are of course, people who change their life around based on sheer willpower, but in doing so, they are in fact, changing habits, and pathways in their brain. Most of us, give up when we slip back into old behaviours and patterns, and succumb to the false belief that we just don’t have the willpower.
Creating good alternatives to when you recognize you are stressed or bored lead long term success and diminish destructive behavior/bad habits.
Recognizing the causes of your bad habits is crucial to overcoming them.
If the habit is procrastination or stress eating at work for instance, pay attention to the circumstances surrounding you when you do those things. Do you have a big project you’re trying to avoid? Do you have too much on your plate to manage?
Once you know your triggers, try to identify the behaviors you engage in when you are acting out. Do you check social media instead of doing work? Do you snack on sweets during challenging assignments? You must be able to name the actions you turn to for comfort or peace of mind before you can evaluate their reward values.
You don’t eradicate a bad habit, you replace it.
All of the habits that you have right now or have ever had — good or bad — are in your life for a reason. In some way, these behaviors provide some sort of gain or benefit to you, even if they are bad for you in other ways.
In many cases, your bad habit is a simple way to cope with stress. Numerous examples of bad habits are biting your nails, tapping your foot, or chewing gum.
Due to the fact that bad habits provide some type of benefit or reward in your life, it’s very hard to simply eliminate them.
Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit.
If you expect yourself to simply cut out bad habits without replacing them, then you’ll have certain needs that will be unmet and it’s going to be hard to stick to a routine of “just don’t do it” for very long.
How to break the habbits
Choose a substitute for your bad habit. You need to have a plan ahead of time for how you will respond when you face the stress or boredom that prompts your bad habit. What are you going to do when you get the urge to smoke? (Example: do some mild exercises.) What are you going to do when Instagram is calling to you to procrastinate? (Example: write two sentences for your assignment.) Whatever it is and whatever you’re dealing with, you need to have a game plan for what you will do instead of your bad habit.
Cut out as many triggers as possible. . If you eat cookies when they are in the house, then throw them all away. If you smoke when you drink, then don’t go to the bar. If you bite your nails when stressed, then try playing with a coin in your hands instead of biting. Make it easier on yourself to break bad habits by avoiding the things that cause them.
Your environment makes your bad habit easier and good habits harder. Change your environment and you can change the outcome. If you are always in the living room watching Tv, try being outdoors.
Join forces with somebody. How often do you try to diet in private? Or maybe you “quit smoking” and you kept it to yourself.
Instead, pair up with someone and quit together. The two 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.
Surround yourself with people who live the way you want to live. You don’t need to abandon your old friends, but don’t underestimate the power of finding some new ones.
Visualize yourself succeeding. See yourself throwing away the cigarettes or buying healthy food or waking up early. Whatever the bad habit is that you are looking to break, envision yourself crushing it, smiling, and enjoying your success. See yourself building a new identity.
We all get off track, what separates top performers from everyone else is that they get back on track very quickly. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a workout session or you pig out one night on pizza and ice cream. Acknowledge it as just part of the process and get back to your routine as soon as you can.
Don’t say, “OK, I’m ridiculously overweight so I should run a marathon.” Instead start where you are, which could be in your basement on an exercise bike for 4 minutes a day. This keep you engaged and you won’t feel too overwhelmed while you are working to replace your bad habit with a new one.
People don’t develop and acquire habits at the same rate; everyone is different. Set goals for yourself and know your limitations and weaknesses; then work to eliminate them at your own rate.