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Articles > Mental Health July, 28, 2020

Four steps to breaking bad habits

Loren Madnack
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We’re all guilty of bad habits, whether it be eating or drinking unhealthily, spending too much time online or lazing around too much. Here are my four tips to beat that bad habit…

Habits are instilled into us and they form around 40-50% of our daily routine. Think about brushing your teeth or checking your email every morning, these are all habits that we perform automatically. Charles Duhigg and James Clear both wrote fascinating books on the topic, but why is ‘habit’ such an important topic?

Clear puts it well: “you do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems”.  My interpretation of this is that our habits stack up to determine our behaviour, which impacts our ability reach our goals. A negative habit can be detrimental to our goals, whether this relates to: fitness, health, work or relationships.

But, how do we get rid of a bad habit?

Duhigg termed the idea of the ‘habit loop’, in which a habit has a cue, a routine and a reward. By shifting these components, we can easily change our habits.

Step 1: Determine your Cue

For example; if you have a habit of snacking every night at 11 pm, you need to identify what triggers you to fulfil this craving. Perhaps it’s boredom or due to your eating choices throughout the day?

Similarly, if you find yourself browsing on social media every few minutes, your trigger may be interior or exterior, such as hearing it vibrate. If this is the case, you can easily stop the trigger.

Step 2: Increase Friction Between the Action

Habits are created by the circumstances within that moment that encourage this behaviour. Therefore, to break a bad habit, you need to make it harder to accomplish it.

This is done by changing little aspects of your environment, such as, placing your phone in another room when you work or storing unhealthy snacks somewhere you can’t easily reach. This means that you’ll need to make extra effort to satisfy the habit, which completely defies the idea of habits being unconscious.

This will give your brain more time to contemplate the negative task.

Step 3: Replace the Routine

We cannot always get rid of a bad habit, but we can replace it.

If boredom is your trigger instead of scrolling on Instagram for hours, read a book or go for a run and listen to a podcast.

If you snack late at night and it’s harming your fitness progress, try to sleep earlier or replace the snack with a healthy one. This will allow you to go through a routine and gain a much greater reward.

Step 4: Demotivate the Reward

Before falling into a bad habit, think about the reward and how it is usually brief and may even leave you with a feeling of guilt. One thing we need to realise is that changing habits doesn’t only mean changing what you do but also who you are and the way you see yourself.


Let’s hear from you

Do you have any bad habits that you’re trying to get rid of? Let us know in the comments below. And if you would like to submit your own blog, simply send your article to: editor@youthsight.com.

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