Last Updated on April 7, 2021 by Shane Walker
Everyone has bad habits. Whether it is something serious and dangerous like smoking or just annoyances like cracking your knuckles, we all have something that we can change. But how can you change something that you’ve been doing for years? This can seem impossible, but with a little perseverance, even the worst of bad habits can be broken. Here’s how.
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The Bad News About How To Break Bad Habits
Once an action becomes a habit, it will never technically go away. Science tells us that routine actions and behavior become imprinted in our deep brain after a time. I am not a scientist so I will explain all this in simple terms (Shane’s terms). When you begin to do something, let’s say learn how to back a car down the driveway, your mind has to think about every aspect of driving. Put my hands here, look behind me, ease off the brake, oops put it in reverse. That’s a lot of brainpower! Once you do these steps over and over, your mind is efficient enough to move this knowledge into a part of your deep brain that stores habits. This way you do not have to “think” about every step and expend too much of your precious brainpower. It becomes “natural”.
Once this becomes part of your deep brain, you never really forget it. Neural Pathways have been written. When was the last time you had to “think” about how to back down a driveway? Riding a bike, shooting a basket, etc. are things that once you learn, you never really forget. It’ll “come back to you” if need be. But even though the brain is smart enough to manage its brainpower expenditure, it’s not smart enough to tell which actions are good or bad. So a bad action (i.e. pigging out when you feel stressed) can also be imprinted in your brain and become a habit. It’s always there, just like riding a bike.
The Good News About How To Break Bad Habits
Just because habits, especially bad habits, are ingrained in your deep brain doesn’t mean you have to actually do them. You still have enough power in that head of yours to overcome them. This is because bad habits like overeating, smoking, and procrastinating, are caused by triggers. TRIGGERS are the key my friend. It’s something that causes you to perform the habit. Stress, for instance, is a big trigger for most.
The good news is that there is a space of time between your trigger and your habit that you can manipulate and make a better decision. Once you have identified the trigger of a bad habit, you can learn a new habit to act on instead. This will take brainpower, and a lot of it, but remember your brain has to use power to do something new before eventually moving into the deep brain. Just like learning how to back down the driveway. Science says that it takes 21 days of repetitive action to create a new habit. So if you can get through 21 days of committing to a new action, it will become a habit.
- 21 days of waking up early to go to the gym.
- Just 21 days of taking a walk at 10 am instead of smoking a cigarette.
- 21 days of eating healthy meals.
3 Step Process To Break Bad Habits
1. Identify Your Trigger (find the reason)
What happens right before you grab that donut even though you are not hungry? What’s going on in your mind? How are you feeling right before you lose control and yell at your kids at the top of your lungs? When you are engaged in your bad habit, stop and think about why you are doing it. When breaking bad habits, the most important step is to recognize why it is happening. Write it down if you can. Just become aware of what it is that is causing you to act on your bad habit. Sometimes this can be difficult and in some situations, you may want to place blame on others. Instead, try to look within.
2. Write Your Bad Habit, And Alternate Habit Down.
Once you have identified your trigger, the next step is to think about something you can do instead that isn’t bad. If you’ve determined that you eat junk food for comfort every time you feel stressed, write it down on a piece of paper. “When I feel stressed, I eat chocolate.” Underneath that, write down an alternative. “When I feel stressed, I read my favorite book.” Play around with this. This is a great opportunity to improve yourself and kick a bad habit at the same time.
“When I feel stressed, I go for a walk.” When I feel stressed, I knock off the smallest thing on my to-do list.” “When I feel stressed I practice the piano.”
Writing it down is very powerful.
3. Take Action
Once you have an alternative in mind, take action on it. In the scenario above, when you feel stressed, take that moment after the trigger, to force yourself to do your new action. It will be difficult at first, but you must make yourself do it. Like I mentioned before, if you can give yourself 21 consecutive days of performing this new action, it will become a habit. At that point, it will become much easier.
Breaking bad habits is not easy, but it can be done. Identify your trigger, write down alternatives, and take action. The process is simple, but it is not easy. Just remember, use your willpower and stick with it for 21 days. Then it will get much easier. If you fall off the wagon, do not beat yourself up and feel regretful. Get back up and keep going as quickly as you can.
How would your life change if you can drop your bad habits? Let us know in the comments below.