Habits and Mindset Lifestyle

3 Easy Steps to Break Bad Habits

Breaking bad habits can be challenging, but understanding the habit loop—consisting of the trigger, routine, and reward—can make the process more manageable. Systematically addressing each component can replace bad habits with healthier ones. Here’s a deeper look at how these three elements work together and the steps you can take to break your bad habits.

1. Identify the Trigger

The trigger is the cue that initiates the habit. It can be internal, like emotions or thoughts, or external, like specific times of day or social situations. Recognizing the trigger is the first step in breaking a habit because it helps you understand what prompts the behaviour.

Triggers can be internal or external cues that prompt the habit. Understanding these cues is essential:

  • Internal Triggers: These come from within you, such as emotions (stress, boredom, anxiety), thoughts, or physiological states (hunger, fatigue).
  • External Triggers: These are environmental factors, such as specific times of day, locations, social situations, or the presence of certain people.

Steps to Identify Triggers:

  • Keep a Habit Journal: Track when the habit occurs. Note the time, place, emotional state, who you were with, and what you were doing.
  • Look for Patterns: Review your notes to identify consistent triggers after tracking for a week or two.
  • Ask Questions: Reflect on what you were feeling, thinking, or experiencing before the habit. For instance, “What was I doing before I felt the urge to snack?”

2. Experiment with New Routines

The routine is the behaviour you perform when the trigger occurs. Changing the routine is key to breaking a bad habit. Once you identify the trigger, you can consciously choose to perform a different, healthier routine instead. This study found that it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit, with the length of time varying depending on the complexity of the behaviour.

Steps to Experiment with New Routines:

  • Brainstorm Alternatives: Think of healthier behaviours that could replace the bad habit. For example, instead of eating junk food when stressed, you might try meditating, exercising, or engaging in a hobby.
  • Test New Routines: Try different alternatives to see which ones work best. It might take a few attempts to find the most effective replacement.
  • Make it Easy: Choose routines that are easy to implement, especially in the beginning. If a new routine is too difficult, you’re less likely to stick with it.

3. Understand the Reward

The reward is the benefit you get from performing the routine. It reinforces the habit by making you want to repeat the behaviour. Understanding the reward helps you find alternative routines that provide a similar or even better reward.

Steps to Understand the Reward:

  • Reflect on the Benefits: Consider what you gain from the habit. Is it relaxation, social interaction, a sense of accomplishment, or something else?
  • Test Different Rewards: Try various rewards to see what satisfies the same need. For instance, if smoking gives you a break from work, a short walk or chat with a friend might be an alternative.
  • Evaluate Satisfaction: After trying a new routine, ask yourself if it provided the same or a better reward. This feedback helps in fine-tuning your approach.

Reinforce the New Habit

Consistency is key to making the new habit stick. Here are some strategies to reinforce the new habit:

Steps to Reinforce the New Habit:

  • Set Clear Goals: Define specific, achievable goals for adopting the new habit. For example, aim to replace an unhealthy snack with a fruit twice weekly, then gradually increase the frequency.
  • Use Reminders: Setting up reminders or cues to trigger the new habit. Eg alarms, notes, or associating the new habit with existing routines.
  • Seek Support: Sharing your goals with friends, family, or a support group will encourage and hold you accountable and can increase your chances of success.
  • Reward Yourself: You have to celebrate small victories. Recognize and reward yourself for sticking to the new habit, to reinforce your commitment.

Example: Breaking the Habit of Late-Night Snacking

Let’s apply this process to a common habit: late-night snacking.

  1. Identify the Trigger:
    • Trigger: Watching TV late at night, feeling bored or stressed.
  2. Experiment with New Routines:
    • New Routine: Drinking herbal tea, reading a book, or practising a relaxing hobby like knitting or drawing.
  3. Understand the Reward:
    • Reward: Relaxation and stress relief.
  4. Reinforce the New Habit:
    • Set a goal to drink tea instead of snacking three times a week.
    • Place a reminder note on the TV remote.
    • Share your goal with a friend who can encourage you.
    • Reward yourself with a favourite activity or a small treat after a week of success.

The journey will require patience and persistence, but with a clear understanding of triggers, routines, and rewards, you can make lasting changes that improve your well-being.



Health and Wellness Coach

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