Scientists Suggests That The First Step To Conquering Bad Habits Is Understanding How They Form In The First Place
Sure you know what your bad habits are, but do you know why you have them?
If you're like most people, you probably have some habits you'd desperately like to change. Whether it be quitting smoking, cutting out junk food, or spending less time looking at screens, we all have our own bad habits that seem to keep getting the best of us in spite of our sincere efforts to break them.
Researchers suggest that one important key to unlocking the ability to conquer bad habits is realizing the way our brains form habits in the first place.
According to studies conducted by neuroscientists, such as one led by Christina Gremel from the University of San Diego, habits are formed in one part of the brain while conscious decisions are made in a separate part of the brain. For many habits that we would consider positive or neutral, this ability for us to act automatically is a positive characteristic. It's the reason we can brush our teeth, put our clothes on, ride a bike, speak to one another, or drive a car without having to make conscious decisions about each move we make throughout the entire process.
The trouble comes in when this habit-forming part of the brain causes us to automatically participate in negative behaviors. That's where we need to recognize what researchers call the "habit loop" and try to get the decision making part of our brains to shift into gear and override the automatic part of our brains.
The habit loop consists of a trigger, routine, and reward. For example, imagine that you have an entrenched habit of smoking cigarettes. The trigger for your desire to pull out a cigarette could be a moment of stress. As a result of conditioning over time, the body's response to the trigger becomes automatic. You pull out that cigarette and light it up without even thinking. As a result of this routine, you feel relaxed from the effects of dopamine being released by your brain as you smoke. That relaxed feeling is the end of the habit loop, which is the reward.
Simply knowing and analyzing what is going on inside your head when it comes to your daily habbits can be extremely enlightening and powerful. Once you have pinpointed the trigger, you can begin to take steps to get the decision-making part of your brain to intervene.
Many experts agree that replacing a bad habit with a good habit is crucial to rewiring your brain for long-term success in improving your lifestyle. So don't just try to quit eating those tempting donuts at the corner gas station by your office.
When you feel the trigger coming on, whether it be a moment of loneliness, fatigue, or hunger, it's critical to do something that will break the habit loop. Rather than get on the elevator and walk to that donut shop as the automatic, habitual part of your brain wants you to do, make a point of doing something completely different. Walk to the break room and get a cup of water or unsweetened tea, or pull out a healthy snack. The power to change comes with finding a new pathway to take to get to the reward.
One way to take your decision making to the next level in forming new habits is to keep an accountability journal. Track how many times a day you give in to your bad habit and how many times you're able to break the cycle.
Whether you write in manually in a notebook or record your habit-changing journey on your phone, you'll be able to see whether or not you're making progress toward your goal. You can even set up daily or hourly reminders on your phone to help you stay on track. Finding an accountability partner or support network is another proven success strategy.
If you struggle with a powerful and destructive addictive habit, simply understanding the habit loop may not be enough in and of itself for you to see long-term change. Still, it can be a first step toward admitting that you have a problem and need help. In these types of situations, medical or professional psychological assistance may be necessary, either at a doctor's office or an in-patient treatment center.
If this article has helped you understand more about the psychology of why we form bad habits and how to break them, pass it on to a friend or family member who may benefit from it. Let us know your thoughts about the helpful suggestions that were mentioned as well as any tips you might have to add!
Pass this along to anyone you know with a bad habit!