How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

Do you have a bad habit that you’ve tried to break over and over without success? Maybe it’s cutting out refined sugars from your diet because you know that sugar causes inflammation, or keeping your desk clutter-free to increase productivity. But no matter how hard you try to stop, the unwanted behavior continues on and on and on.

It’s the Science!

We now know that sheer force of will does not break bad habits. Instead, studies have identified a simple neurological “loop” at the foundation of every habit that Charles Duhigg, a New York Times business writer, discusses in his new book, The Power of Habit.

The Habit Loop

Habits are actually our brains following a specific psychological pattern called a “loop” which consists of three parts:

1. The Cue – a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode.

2. A Routine – the behavior itself.

3. A Reward – something your brain likes that reinforces the habit loop in the future.

Duhigg uses his own bad habit of going to the cafeteria every afternoon to buy a chocolate chip cookie as an example of how the loop works.

Be the Change

Duhigg’s daily cookie habit was not only putting on the pounds, but also provoking snarly comments from his wife. To break the habit he first needed to identify the routine. In his case it was the act of going to the cafeteria every afternoon to buy a cookie.

Reward Offered

The next step was to experiment with different rewards to figure out which one was driving his particular behavior. What Duhigg discovered was that his reward for going to the cafeteria was socializing with colleagues, not the cookie itself.

Next he needed to isolate the cue. Luckily, science has shown that almost all habitual cues fit into one of five categories:

• Location – where are you when the urge strikes?

• Time – what time is it?

• Emotional State – are you bored, tired, distracted, excited?

• Other People – Is anyone else around?

• Immediately Preceding Action – what action preceded the urge? Answering the phone? Replying to an email?

Duhigg determined that the particular cue triggering his behavior was time of day, specifically between 3:00 – 4:00 pm.

Plan for Success

Once you’ve identified your routine, reward and cue, you need to plan what specific action you are going to take every time you feel the urge to give in to the behavior or habit you are trying to break. For example, what ended up working for Duhigg was setting an alarm for 3:30 every afternoon. When it rings he gets up from his desk, and socializes with co-workers for ten minutes – his cookie habit loop has now been replaced by a healthier alternative.

Groundhog Day

The good news is that it is never too late to break a habit. Just because you’ve tried to change in the past and failed, does not mean you are doomed to repeat the behavior over and over again.

But be patient. Breaking habits and changing behavior can take time so don’t beat yourself up if the cookie wins the first round.

Chances are, you have a bad habit or two. (We all do!) They might range from glancing at your phone too often, hitting the snooze button instead of going to workout, or mindlessly snacking while watching TV. If you’ve ever tried to quit a bad habit, you know how tough that can be to accomplish.

People who’ve quit smoking may have sought out therapy, nail biters might have enlisted a product to help, and overeaters may have joined a support group. But, what if we had access to the tools to break bad habits with us all the time? (Turns out, we might.) It’s called a mindfulness practice and we can rely on these skills to help stop bad habits. Here’s how mindfulness can help end negative habits and build new ones.

How are habits formed?

A small region of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, where most of our thoughts and planning take place, is responsible for the moment-by-moment control of habits that are switched on at any given time, according to neuroscientists at MIT. Research has found that although habits may be deeply ingrained, the brain’s planning centers can shut them off, according to the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Once a behavior becomes automatic, the decision-making part of your brain can go into a sleep-like state —so you might not be aware that you’re doing it. The more you do something over and over, the easier it is for your brain to create a pattern and automate that response for next time . So if you hit snooze on your alarm four days this week when you planned to work out, your brain is being primed to tell you to repeat that action next time your alarm sounds.

Why is it so tough for bad habits to go away?

If you’re trying to quit snacking at night, you might be better off changing your routine—like sipping a cup of herbal tea while watching TV—rather than simply fighting the urge to nosh all night long. That’s because the cortex of the brain never completely forgets old practices, but it favors new habits over old ones . We also tend to fall prey to our bad habits and seek comfort in those routines when we’re emotionally taxed.

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

Why mindfulness is a great tool for breaking habits

Practicing mindfulness has been shown to activate the brain’s prefrontal cortex which is associated with concentration, planning and decision making, and can shrink the right amygdala, which is associated with fear and negative emotion . Just like improving anything in your life—whether it’s running or playing the guitar—the more you practice mindfulness, the more ease you will find doing it. In order to break a bad habit, you have to be aware that it’s happening, get present, and change your behavior.

In his TED Talk , psychiatrist Judson Brewer discusses the relationship between mindfulness and addiction . He says that the brain follows a pattern: trigger, behavior, then reward. If a sweet treat made you feel better the last time you were in a bad mood, the brain says, “ Hey, next time you feel bad, eat something that makes you feel good and we’ll feel happy again !” Or, if a cigarette helps take the edge off after a particularly taxing meeting, even though your brain knows it’s bad for you, your body seeks that pleasure and relief.

“But, what if you tapped into the natural reward-based learning process instead?” Brewer asks in his talk. He found that being “curious and aware” while smoking made study participants realize that it tastes and smells gross. The prefrontal cortex understands that you shouldn’t smoke and overeat, and it wants to help you control behavior, but that part of your brain goes ‘offline’ when you’re stressed. This is why it’s easy to fall back into bad habits.

Mindfulness shows us what’s going on at a given moment, so we can assess our actions and let go of old habits and form new ones. Mindfulness involves being curious about what’s going on, which can be a rewarding experience for the brain. Curiosity might make you realize that you’re feeling restless or stressed. “When we get curious, we step out of our old fear-based reactive habit patterns, and we step into being,” said Brewer.

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

In a 2011 study published in the journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence that Brewer worked on , researchers found that mindfulness training was twice as successful at encouraging smokers to quit as the American Lung Association’s “freedom from smoking” treatment.

Mindfulness-based interventions are being explored in the research community as a way of helping people better cope with negative emotions and stress, especially in obese and overweight demographics.

An article written by Ronald M. Epstein, M.D., explores mindfulness in medicine and describes mindfulness as: “attentive observation, critical curiosity, informed flexibility and presence.” Epstein believes “habits of mind include the cognitive, emotional, and technical domains.” Asking yourself a question might help disrupt habitual and rigid patterns of thought and behavior to allow a familiar situation to be seen in a new way, said Epstein in his article. It can train you to be present and observe.

The next time you find yourself mindlessly participating in a bad habit, take a few deep breaths to get present. Ask yourself, Why am I doing this? See what answers come to mind. You may want to follow that up with, What other habits can I practice instead? Some options include changing your environment, calling a friend, listening to music, going on a walk, or pulling out your headphones and listening to a meditation. Chances are, once you distract yourself from the bad habit—and keep doing it repeatedly—your brain will start to realize that you’re moving away from that pattern and look for new ones to adopt.

This piece was produced in partnership with Nike Training Club. To get started on your fitness journey, download the NTC app here .

The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.

Sometimes you are your own worst enemy after a breakup – such as when you allow negative thoughts to control your mood and mind. These tips on how to stop negative thinking will help you regain control of your life. After breaking up, you can feel better about yourself than you ever have before!

Breaking up is never easy. Even if your boyfriend or husband was unhealthy or abusive – or if he left and you have no choice but to move on – it’s hard to let go. You’re learning a whole new life, a different way of being and acting and relating to people. Your home is different. So is your car, workplace, even where you eat lunch or watch tv.

Negative thoughts after a breakup are normal. That’s the bad news. But wait, I have good news, too! No matter how old you are, you can retrain your brain. You can rewire how you think and feel about yourself. You can learn how to stop thinking about your ex and get on with your life.

Not only can you learn how to stop negative thinking after a breakup, you can actually create new neural pathways in your brain. These new pathways will boost your thoughts and change your feelings from bad to good.

7 Easy Ways to Stop Negative Thinking After a Breakup

More good news: you have power to change how you feel.

When you choose activities and exercises that help you heal and grow, you literally change how your brain operates. When you practice different Blossom Tips for moving forward, you plant seeds in your life that grow forever. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.

1. Remember that negative thinking is a habit

You are NOT what you think. Your negative thoughts are simply a habit that you’ve fallen into. They are NOT the truth about who you are or where your life is going. Your negative thoughts are not the truth about your value, self-worth, or ability to love and be loved in the future.

Thinking negative after a breakup is simply a habit that your brain – which is lazy even though it’s smart – has fallen into. Remember this, because it is an easy and effective way to stop negative thinking after a breakup. You’ve simply fallen into a bad habit, and you can train your brain to think differently.

2. You have power over your thoughts

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brainYou can change how you feel and think. Sure, certain negative thoughts about the breakup will pop into your head and make you feel sad, guilty or lonely. You’ll struggle with pain and grief at unexpected times, in unexpected places. Or maybe you always struggle at the same time and in the same place. But your painful, negative thoughts don’t have to control or overwhelm you.

Your thoughts are incredibly powerful – but you have the upper hand. You have more power over your thoughts than they have over you. This is really important; many of my She Blossoms readers say they can’t control their thoughts, they’ll never get over a breakup or loss, and they have no power over their lives. This is extremely negative thinking that has a toxic effect on their emotions, body, and spirit. An easy and effective way to stop these types of negative thoughts is to remember that you have more power than you think.

3. Increase your awareness

Notice your feelings of loneliness and sadness. When do you feel the baddest or saddest? Does a place or person always trigger negative feelings? What specific thoughts make you feel worse?

Paying attention to the how, what, when, why and where of your negative thought patterns will help you retrain your brain after a breakup. Sometimes it’s as easy as realizing that you always feel bad when you walk your dog down this particular street, for example. That’s the street you and your ex shared a kiss, or had the huge fight that led to the breakup! Guess what? It’s time to avoid that street. That will help stop the negative thoughts that rise from that particular place.

4. Write down the negative thoughts about you or your breakup

Make a list of all the thoughts that are creating negativity and pain in your life. Take time to do this, with an actual pen and paper. This will help you see what you’re dealing with. The enemy is darkness, shame and secrets. Shine light on the pain and shame, and it will start to dissipate.

That is the third way to stop negative thinking from controlling your life after a breakup. See how easy it can be? But I admit it’s not simple. Learning how to retrain your brain to think more positively requires you to actually take action and do a little work.

5. Savor the feeling of thinking good thoughts

Bad thoughts make you feel terrible; good thoughts make you feel awesome. Changing how you feel is as easy as choosing to think thoughts that uplift, inspire, and encourage you. It really is that simple.

You can’t control how often those thoughts pop into your head. But, you can control which thoughts you choose to dwell on. You can also control who you listen to. You can decide to hold on to certain thoughts, and let others pass through your mind. Notice them, them let them go. Feed and savor the true, healthy thoughts. Instead of obsessing about the distressing thoughts that make you feel terrible, make a list of positive thoughts that brighten your spirits.

6. Give your brain good thoughts to “eat”

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brainI don’t mean actual physical food – though your brain definitely needs omega 3 fatty acids, nutrients, and minerals. But when you’re dealing with negative thought patterns after breaking up with someone you love, your brain needs something different to focus on.

In other words, you can’t just eliminate negative thoughts without giving your brain something else to do, plan, hope for, dream of. After a breakup your brain is looking for something to chew on. Feed it good, positive, uplifting thoughts.

Read Getting Out of the “Couples Mindset” After a Breakup for ideas. But first take a look at our last way to stop negative thinking….your blossomy moments.

7. Train your brain to focus on your blossomy moments

Remember a time you achieved something you’re proud of. Maybe you successfully completed a project at work or school, and it was praised. Maybe you inspired or encouraged a friend.

When you find yourself dwelling on a painful thought, refocus on a “life word” or phrase you chose in advance. Mine is freedom. I take a deep breath when I say it. Then I think about things that make me feel free: Jesus, forgiveness, grace, love, joy, peace.

You have power to change how you feel and think after a breakup. Don’t throw your power away.

Your thoughts – big and little – are welcome below! Writing is one of the best ways to discover what you really think and feel. Take time to stop and listen to the still small voice, and you will start healing and moving forward.

I read every comment, but don’t worry. I won’t give advice or tell you what to do. It’s your turn to talk.

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

Alexandra Janelli’s clients often tell her how they’ve tried therapy, only to come away from it all less enlightened than they’d hoped.

Traditional therapy didn’t work for Janelli, either. That’s why she launched her own practice called Theta Spring Hypnosis.

“Back in 2006, I was seeing a chiropractor,” the WeWork Park South member recalls. “I had been an avid ‘finger-picker.’ Psychiatrists had always wanted to put me on high doses of anti-anxiety medication, but that wasn’t something I was willing to live with. My chiropractor asked me, ‘Would you ever consider seeing a hypnotist?’ I had never considered it, but I said, ‘Why not?’ Within three sessions, the finger picking habit stopped completely.”

Hypnotherapy clicked for Janelli in more ways than one. At the time, Janelli worked as an environmental consultant, but she had started asking herself what she really wanted to do. So she went back to school for hypnotherapy.

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

“It became a journey of self-discovery and getting to know myself,” she explains. “It’s been amazing.”

Like running a startup company, Janelli is learning constantly on the job.

“As much as I know the foundation of hypnotherapy, a lot of the practice is formulated around working with my clients and working with myself.”

One common misconception about hypnosis is that the client won’t remember anything.

“Most people associate hypnotherapy with a stage hypnosis show where you’re not going to remember anything that happens,” says Janelli. “Hypnosis is nothing more than a deep state of relaxation—the body first, then the mind. You are acutely aware of what’s going on.”

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

Janelli says that an advantage of hypnotherapy is that it can change behaviors more quickly than other forms of therapy.

“The start of any session in hypnosis is getting to the root of what’s going on,” she says. “The hypnosis brings the awareness back down to a subconscious level where the behaviors come from. You really are learning to retrain the brain: How would you like to feel? You begin to rewire your response.”

Janelli reflects on the large spectrum of clients she’s worked with.

“It’s interesting: the difference between working with creatives and business executives,” she says. “The business executives are great to work with because they already know how to focus their minds. On the other hand, the creatives already know how to do the visualization.”

Janelli’s clients include startup employees, investment bankers, accountants, consultants, students, actors, artists, and authors—people with grand goals who can’t rest until they’re one step closer to the finish line. And she’s happy to help them get there.

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

Bad habits: we all have them. Whether it’s something seemingly insignificant like biting your nails (guilty) or something more serious, like smoking, everyone probably has at least one unsavoury habit they’d like to kick.

The trouble, of course, is that it’s hard to do. If you’ve spent years and years doing the same thing, whether consciously or unconsciously, it’s not so easy to wake up one day and say ‘well that’s it, I’m done.’

However, that’s not to say breaking a habit is impossible. In fact, neuroleadership specialist and author of the new book ‘Traction’, Kristen Hansen, says the key lies in a relatively simple process called neuroplasticity.

What is neuroplasticity?

Put simply, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt and change. By forming new neural connections throughout life, the brain is able to ‘reorganise’ itself and adapt to our changing needs.

Self directed neuroplasticity is the ability to change your own brain, which is the process Hansen says can assist with changing our habits.

How do bad habits form?

“Habits form as shortcuts, as a way to save us time or money or to make us feel good,” Hansen told HuffPost Australia.

“So one example is if you’re stressed and you reach for a lolly, it’s a way to feel good in a not so good moment. If you do that again, or a third time, it can turn into a habit.

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

“These shortcuts become hardwired because they become stronger neural pathways. And I’m not just talking about the big [habits] like smoking or overeating, but every single habit, and that can be something like hitting the snooze button on your alarm every morning.

“Any time that occurs, you are creating a habit.”

How can I break my bad habits?

1. Identify your habits

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out not all habits need to be broken. In fact, there is such a thing as really positive habits that should be encouraged.

“The first thing is to have a look at how much of the things we do in life have just become habits that are not serving us,” Hansen said.

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

“Many of our habits do serve us. So if we exercise five days a week, that’s a healthy habit.

“I guess the main thing is to identify which parts of your life are habits that serve you versus not the ones that aren’t serving you.

“Identifying them and labelling them is the first step.”

2. Understand how to change the brain

According to Hansen, it’s not really possible to simply get rid of a habit. The key is actually to replace one habit with another.

“We best create new neural pathways by being more mindful,” Hansen said. “If we bring a conscious awareness to our response, we can shift how we respond.”

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

“Once you become aware of your triggers, next, we’ll look to build in a replacement response,” Hansen continued. “This is a ‘high-road’ response, our alternative to the default.

“The idea is for every time we have the urge or stimulus for the habit, to have an alternative habit we pay more attention to. If you want a lolly because you’re stressed, turn the jug on for a cup of tea instead.”

3. Be mindful of the goal

In order to help you stay on track, Hansen says it’s important to have a clear understanding of your end goal.

“Ask yourself not only ‘What do I want to achieve and by when’, but also ‘What would it look like and how will I feel when I get there?’ she said.

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

“Bring the goal alive in your brain through creative visualisation and by engaging your emotions.

“For example, ‘I will be a non-smoker by Dec and I’ll see a healthier, fitter person. I’ll feel happier, proud and confident’.”

4. Pay attention to the new habit we want to form

We’ve already established the idea of replacing your ‘bad’ habit with a new, more positive action, but Hansen says it’s important to really invest in your new habit if you want it to stick.

“Attention can be defined in quantity and quality — so how often and how closely we pay attention to something,” she said.

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

“It’s important because neuroplasticity requires attention to the new neural pathway for it to form.

“We can put reminders in our phone, have a coach, or share our goal with our partner. All of these are great ways to create frequent reminders of what we’re trying to achieve.”

5. Give yourself positive feedback

While this may sound a bit corny, Hansen says it’s a crucial part of neuroplasticity process.

“Reward yourself for the small wins, rather than spending so much time beating ourselves up for the things we aren’t doing perfectly,” she said.

“This positive feedback helps us because it ends up becoming a bit of a ‘hit’ for our brains. When we say ‘good on you’ to ourselves or someone else says that, dopamine is released. Then our brain becomes addicted. It’s giving ourselves our own carrot, so to speak.”

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

How long does it take to break a habit?

“How long it takes to create a new habit really depends on the individual,” Hansen said. “It really depends on how strong your goal is to create the new habit, and how much attention do you pay to the new regime.

“But to be honest, I’ve not really seen anyone succeed with a new habit in less time than three to four weeks.

“The main thing is to recognise we can achieve more of our potential as humans or managers or parents or partners if we become more mindful of how we respond to things and not always respond in an automatic way.

“Instead of just trying to get rid of bad habits, it’s important to recognise we can create many new helpful habits along the way.

‘It’s an important part of getting the best out of our lives and the best out of ourselves.”

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

Alexandra Janelli’s clients often tell her how they’ve tried therapy, only to come away from it all less enlightened than they’d hoped.

Traditional therapy didn’t work for Janelli, either. That’s why she launched her own practice called Theta Spring Hypnosis.

“Back in 2006, I was seeing a chiropractor,” the WeWork Park South member recalls. “I had been an avid ‘finger-picker.’ Psychiatrists had always wanted to put me on high doses of anti-anxiety medication, but that wasn’t something I was willing to live with. My chiropractor asked me, ‘Would you ever consider seeing a hypnotist?’ I had never considered it, but I said, ‘Why not?’ Within three sessions, the finger picking habit stopped completely.”

Hypnotherapy clicked for Janelli in more ways than one. At the time, Janelli worked as an environmental consultant, but she had started asking herself what she really wanted to do. So she went back to school for hypnotherapy.

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

“It became a journey of self-discovery and getting to know myself,” she explains. “It’s been amazing.”

Like running a startup company, Janelli is learning constantly on the job.

“As much as I know the foundation of hypnotherapy, a lot of the practice is formulated around working with my clients and working with myself.”

One common misconception about hypnosis is that the client won’t remember anything.

“Most people associate hypnotherapy with a stage hypnosis show where you’re not going to remember anything that happens,” says Janelli. “Hypnosis is nothing more than a deep state of relaxation—the body first, then the mind. You are acutely aware of what’s going on.”

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

Janelli says that an advantage of hypnotherapy is that it can change behaviors more quickly than other forms of therapy.

“The start of any session in hypnosis is getting to the root of what’s going on,” she says. “The hypnosis brings the awareness back down to a subconscious level where the behaviors come from. You really are learning to retrain the brain: How would you like to feel? You begin to rewire your response.”

Janelli reflects on the large spectrum of clients she’s worked with.

“It’s interesting: the difference between working with creatives and business executives,” she says. “The business executives are great to work with because they already know how to focus their minds. On the other hand, the creatives already know how to do the visualization.”

Janelli’s clients include startup employees, investment bankers, accountants, consultants, students, actors, artists, and authors—people with grand goals who can’t rest until they’re one step closer to the finish line. And she’s happy to help them get there.

How to tame your constant cravings by getting to know your brain better.

  • By Judson Brewer
  • October 20, 2014
  • Well-Being

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

Ever wonder how your spouse developed that annoying habit of buying tools or kitchen gadgets they don’t need? Why do you check Facebook yet again when you just checked it 15 minutes ago? Or root around in the kitchen late at night, not really hungry but just wanting something?

No mystery. It’s simply how our brains work. We crave. We get. We remember. We crave again. It’s the craving cycle. If we can understand it, we have more of a chance of catching it in the act, and taking steps to make more considered choices. Let’s break down the process and figure out where we can make adjustments.

The Process

1. Our brain takes in data through our five senses or a thought. For example, you look at a selfie you took at the Eiffel Tower.

2. Based on similar experiences—and since we see the world through glasses we’ve manufactured—our brain interprets this as pleasant or unpleasant. “Liking this picture!”

3. If pleasant, our brain gets an itch or an urge: “Get me some more of that!” If unpleasant, it says, “Get this away from me!”

4. We do something to make the good stick around, or to make the bad go away. For example, we post the picture on Facebook, and we get a bunch of “likes” and comments about it.

5. If our behavior was successful, our brain lays down a memory so it will remember to do that again in the future. “That was great. Don’t forget to take more pictures and post them when you’re on exotic trips!” or “Must buy more shiny tools.”

6. This new memory feeds back to Step 2 to inform how we view the world—by solidifying how we saw it previously, or if there is new information, by updating: tweaking the prescription for our mental glasses.

The Practice
How to Change

Each time we go through this, neural circuits that associate the experience with pleasant or unpleasant strengthen. So, we might not even notice the feeling or the urge to act. Bam! A habit is laid down.

Knowing how this works helps us be compassionate with ourselves (and our spouses). We start to understand how we tick and not take ourselves as seriously. Also, seeing how we reinforce habits can help us change them.

Consider a nagging habit. Next time you act it out, see if you can trace each step. Can you see how the habit reinforces itself?

Note what’s happening in your body. Can you notice the pleasant/unpleasant and not act on it? What does that urge to act feel like from moment to moment? What type of glasses are you wearing?

Watch the video above and talk about it with a group or mentor. Learn more

Everyone has a bad habit, whether it’s eating junk food, checking social media constantly, or biting nails. Bad habits are difficult to stop, but a few deliberate steps can retrain your brain for good habits. Understanding how bad habits form helps us understand how to stop them.

How Do Bad Habits Form?

According to the National Institutes of Health, bad habits form for two main reasons:

  1. Repetition. If you do something often enough, your brain doesn’t have to think about doing it any longer.
  2. Positive reinforcement. Many bad habits, such as frequent cell phone use, are enjoyable, which means the brain releases dopamine. When the brain wants more dopamine, it craves more of your bad habit to get it.

4 Steps for Changing Bad Habits

  1. Write down the bad habit you’re trying to quit. Choose only one.
  2. Learn to avoid your triggers. What makes you crave your bad habit? Make a list of these triggers. Next to the triggers, list ways to avoid those situations. For example, reading your syllabus every week can help you avoid stress, a common trigger for bad habits.
  3. Substitute your bad habits for better ones. Replace the junk food in your refrigerator with vegetables. Pick up a book instead of a cell phone during your down time. Teach your brain to learn a new habit the same way it learned the old one: through repetition.
  4. Get the support of your friends and family. Let them know that you plan on eliminating this bad habit, and they can help keep you accountable. Give them the permission to remind you that you plan to break your bad habit, and their support will help you succeed.

Bad habits tend to persist unless you give them specific attention. Retrain your brain by substituting bad habits with better habits. When those tactics fail, friends and family can help remind you to substitute your new, better habit.

Key Points:

  • We all have bad habits. To learn to stop them, learn what causes them.
  • To stop a bad habit, first identify it by writing it down.
  • Discover your bad habit triggers, then avoid them.
  • Substitute good habits for bad habits. If you struggle with junk food, fill your fridge with healthy food.
  • Get support from friends and family.
  • Bad habits will persist until you give them the attention they need.

Quote This:

Bad habits are demons that often push us into isolation because they know that in our loneliness they stand little chance of being overcome. -Richelle E. Goodrich

How to break a bad habit and retrain your brain

Do you find yourself struggling with your hard-wired, nasty habits? Whether it is nail biting, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, or binge eating that you find so hard to resist, you can actually train your brain to curb them. While the mere thought of it can be extremely daunting, it can still be achieved by conditioning your brain to muster up only the right routines. Here are effective methods on training your brain to break a habit, so you can become a better you.

Cultivate awareness.

The first step to breaking a bad habit is to acknowledge that you have one and admit to yourself that it is a problem–one that may bring you to a downward spiral if you don’t control it. Cultivating awareness can lead you to identify the root of the habit you want to break free from and enact a permanent change. Train your brain to create some sense of urgency to come up with strategies to avoid the temptation (e.g. refraining from visiting areas where you used to smoke or drink or staying away from pals who reel you into using drugs). Another good way to cultivate a sense of self-awareness is through meditation. Meditation will enable you to slow down and carefully do some self-examination.

Condition your brain to prefer the good habits over the bad.

Dr. Russell Poldrack, a neurobiologist from the University of Texas at Austin, asserts that programming the brain to prefer the good habits over the bad is one helpful technique. Training your brain to break a habit through conditioning or reinforcement can be quite difficult at first and is not 100% guaranteed to work. But breaking a bad habit is extremely doable with constant reinforcement. The more you repeat a positive thought or action, the more it gets inculcated in the brain. Work on repeatedly telling yourself– you know (insert bad habit here) is bad; you should stay away from it.

Keep your brain preoccupied with more fruitful activities.

Nipping a routine formation in the bud before it can get cemented in your system is one of the most effective ways on how to beat a bad habit. To be able to do this, you have to find wholesome things to do to keep your brain busy before it can even start to conceive a harmful routine.

By repeating the same pattern over and over, your brain creates a neural pathway that automates your action. In order to replace this old pathway, you need to train your brain to create a new one by focusing on a better and healthier routine, like spending more of your time dancing or exercising rather than drinking alcohol or smoking. When you keep yourself preoccupied with worthwhile stuff, you will find yourself able to skip doing what you used to crave to do, like grabbing for junk food or binge eating, which may usually come as a result of an idle mind.

Sure, old habits die hard. Every now and then, you get to feel the irresistible urge to backslide. But that should not be an excuse to perpetuate them. Following these tips on training your brain to break a bad habit, matched with strong willpower and determination, should put you on the right track to personal development and becoming a better you.

References

The following scientific references were used in writing this article: