How to break bad habits i broke 3 bad habits in less than 2 months

H aving habits can often be a good thing. When you drive to work for example, you don’t need to wonder whether you should turn left or right; the route becomes habit.

“We want the brain to learn how to do those things without energy and effort,” says Russell Poldrack, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. “Habits are an adaptive feature of how the brain works.”

But sometimes, habits can lead us astray—whether it’s turning to comfort food when we’re sad, or taking a cigarette break when stressed.

Since habits take practice and repetition to form, the same is true when it comes to breaking them, says Elliot Berkman, director of the University of Oregon’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab. In order to eliminate those pesky habits—whatever they may be—start with these five strategies.

Sink your stress levels

Many habits—including smoking or excess sugar consumption—involve the brain’s dopamine (or reward) system. Dopamine is a “feel-good” chemical that transmits signals between neurons in the brain. The first time you engage in a new, “rewarding” behavior, you get a euphoric feeling from doing it as a result of a dopamine release, notes Poldrack. This leads to changes in both the connections between neurons and the brain systems responsible for actions—and can largely account for why we start to form bad habits in the first place.

Many of these rewarding stimuli—like sugar or substances—are powerful, too. And our physiological reaction to them in present day can be linked all the way back to evolution, says Poldrack. In the cavemen days, meat wasn’t salted, dry-rubbed or grilled to perfection. “Our brains aren’t well-equipped to deal with the big rush one gets from these sorts of things,” Poldrack says. As a result, the frontal lobe, the brain’s “control center,” gets overwhelmed, he says.

“You’re more likely to do the thing you don’t want to do when you’re stressed out,” Poldrack says.

There are however, ways to address the root cause of these seemingly detrimental habits.

Some solutions? Try to get more sleep, exercise regularly and opt for stress reduction techniques like meditation, which can all work to increase willpower and overall brain health, says Poldrack.

Know your cues

Habits, Berkman says, have three main parts: a cue, a routine and a reward.

Cues are the context where you tend to engage in the behavior. If you’re a smoker for example, the cue might be work breaks. If you’re a dessert aficionado, it might be simply scouring the dessert menu. “You’re most likely to relapse in the context of when you’ve done it before,” Berkman says.

Knowing your triggers can help you avoid them. Berkman suggests that smokers dispose of items like ashtrays that might remind them of their habit or people who are trying to cut back on drinking should avoid walking by the bar they always pop into for happy hour.

Capitalizing on major life changes can also help break an unhealthy habit. While you might think a cross-country move or a new job is no time to introduce even more changes into your life, Berkman notes that shifts in lifestyle can actually be the ideal opportunity for eliminating a vice. “You’re going into new contexts and situations, so you don’t have those same cues—it’s a chance to form new habits,” he says.

If you’re used to lighting up on your way to work for instance, moving to a new city gives you a chance to take public transportation or to dig into a new podcast instead of a pack of cigarettes, because you are in a new environment, says Berkman.

Replace a bad habit with a good one

Instead of trying to stop doing something—“It’s hard to stop a behavior,” says Berkman—start doing something else.

“We are action-oriented creatures,” says Berkman. Some studies have shown that the more you suppress your thoughts, the more likely you are to think about that thought or even revert back to that bad habit. A 2008 study in Appetite, found that those who suppressed their thoughts about eating chocolate exhibited a behavioral rebound effect, where they consumed significantly more chocolate than those who didn’t. Similarly, a 2010 study published in Psychological Science found that smokers who tried to restrain their thoughts about smoking wound up thinking about it even more.

If you’re a smoker and you tell yourself not to smoke, your brain still hears “smoke,” Berkman says. Conversely, if you tell yourself to chew gum every time you want a cigarette, your brain has a more positive, concrete action to do, he notes. Similarly, if 5 p.m. has been linked with a glass of wine for years, use it as a time to, instead, double down on hydration and make sure the fridge is stocked with seltzers, cold water and lemon, Berkman says.

But forming a new habit takes time and commitment, so don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than you might expect. A 2010 study published in The European Journal of Social Psychology found it took an average of 66 days for a behavior to change (though time varied from 18 to 254 days).

Have a better reason for quitting

Even if you replace a “bad” habit with a better one, sometimes the original vice will have a stronger biological “reward” than its substitute, Berkman says. For example, your brain knows that gum is not nicotine and therefore won’t produce the same euphoric feeling that smoking a cigarette would, he says. This is where the importance of having an intrinsic motivation comes into play.

Intellectually, we know that quitting smoking is good for our health and limiting how many burgers we eat might help us lose weight. But rooting habit changes in specific and personal reasons—giving up smoking for good may mean spending more years with your family or eating healthier may give you more energy for those outdoor adventures you used to enjoy—provides a stronger dose of motivation, says Berkman.

Set better goals

Rather than focusing on a more general goal—like I will not grab a cookie on the way out of the cafeteria—Poldrack suggests imagining more specifically how you’ll implement this goal into your daily life.

Examining how you’ve responded to the situation in the past and determining what you can do to avoid the cookies in the future, might be all it takes to break the habit, says Poldrack. This may mean simply not walking by the rack of sweets itself.

“It’s always going to be easier to react based on something you’ve already planned out in the past versus trying to come up with a new plan on the fly,” Poldrack says.

Plus, thinking about how exactly you’re going to do something helps you develop the mindset that you can do something, he notes. And that’s half the battle.

Before we get into the guide, I want to recommend the most comprehensive guide on how to change your habits and get 1% better every day: My new book Atomic Habits.

Packed with evidence-based self-improvement strategies, Atomic Habits will teach you how to make the small changes that will transform your habits and deliver remarkable results.

How to break bad habits i broke 3 bad habits in less than 2 months

Atomic Habits will reshape the way you think about progress and success and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits—whether you are a team looking to win a championship, an organization hoping to redefine an industry, or simply an individual who wishes to quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress, and achieve success that lasts.

Want to get Chapter 1 of Atomic Habits for free? Just enter your email address below.

Let’s get to the habits guide…

What Are Habits?

Let’s define habits. Habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day. According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviors on any given day.

Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits. How in shape or out of shape you are? A result of your habits. How happy or unhappy you are? A result of your habits. How successful or unsuccessful you are? A result of your habits.

What you repeatedly do (i.e. what you spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray. Everything I write about – from procrastination and productivity to strength and nutrition – starts with better habits. When you learn to transform your habits, you can transform your life.

This page includes recommended resources on forming better habits and breaking bad ones in any area of life, but if you’d like to explore information on specific types of habits, check out these articles:

3 Ways to Form Better Habits

  1. How to Build a New Habit: This is Your Strategy Guide: Read this guide right now to learn 5 easy, powerful strategies for changing habits.
  2. The 3 R’s of Habit Change: How To Start New Habits That Actually Stick: Every habit you have — good or bad — follows the same 3–step pattern: Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior), routine (the behavior itself; the action you take), and reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior). This helpful framework can make it easier to stick to new habits so that you can improve your health, your work, and your life in general.
  3. Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals This Year: Most of the time we set our goals in the wrong way. Read this article to learn how identity-based habits can help you achieve your goals more easily.

3 Ways to Break Bad Habits

  1. How to Break a Bad Habit and Replace It With a Good One: Want to learn how to break a bad habit? Read this article to discover the science of breaking bad habits and practical suggestions for making it happen.
  2. How Vietnam War Veterans Broke Their Heroin Addictions: By simply removing yourself from an environment that triggers all of your old habits, you can make it easier to break bad habits and build new ones.
  3. How to Declutter Your Mind and Unleash Your Willpower by Using “Bright-Line” Rules: A bright-line rule refers to a clearly defined rule or standard. It is a rule with clear interpretation and very little wiggle room. It establishes a bright line for what the rule is saying and what it is not saying. Most of us could benefit from setting brighter lines in our personal and professional lives.

How to Make a Habit Stick

  • How to Stick to Your Goals When Life Gets Crazy: Having a bad day is just one of the tiny emergencies that prevents most people from sticking to their goals and habits. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
  • How to Stick With Good Habits Every Day by Using the “Paper Clip Strategy”: Why do some good habits stick while others fail? Read this article about a strategy you use to stick with good habits every day.

How to Build Habits That Last and Design Life as You Want It

Want to learn everything you need to build better habits and break bad ones? I recommend the Habits Academy.

The Habits Academy is the world’s most comprehensive course on habits and the science of human behavior. More than 5,000 students have taken the course. Over 40 video lessons are available to Habits Academy students.

Best Habits Books

  • Atomic Habits by James Clear
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  • Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
  • Hooked by Nir Eyal
  • The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson

Want more great books on psychology and self-help? Browse my full list of the best psychology books and best self-help books.

Before we get into the guide, I want to recommend the most comprehensive guide on how to change your habits and get 1% better every day: My new book Atomic Habits.

Packed with evidence-based self-improvement strategies, Atomic Habits will teach you how to make the small changes that will transform your habits and deliver remarkable results.

How to break bad habits i broke 3 bad habits in less than 2 months

Atomic Habits will reshape the way you think about progress and success and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits—whether you are a team looking to win a championship, an organization hoping to redefine an industry, or simply an individual who wishes to quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress, and achieve success that lasts.

Want to get Chapter 1 of Atomic Habits for free? Just enter your email address below.

Let’s get to the habits guide…

What Are Habits?

Let’s define habits. Habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day. According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviors on any given day.

Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits. How in shape or out of shape you are? A result of your habits. How happy or unhappy you are? A result of your habits. How successful or unsuccessful you are? A result of your habits.

What you repeatedly do (i.e. what you spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray. Everything I write about – from procrastination and productivity to strength and nutrition – starts with better habits. When you learn to transform your habits, you can transform your life.

This page includes recommended resources on forming better habits and breaking bad ones in any area of life, but if you’d like to explore information on specific types of habits, check out these articles:

3 Ways to Form Better Habits

  1. How to Build a New Habit: This is Your Strategy Guide: Read this guide right now to learn 5 easy, powerful strategies for changing habits.
  2. The 3 R’s of Habit Change: How To Start New Habits That Actually Stick: Every habit you have — good or bad — follows the same 3–step pattern: Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior), routine (the behavior itself; the action you take), and reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior). This helpful framework can make it easier to stick to new habits so that you can improve your health, your work, and your life in general.
  3. Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals This Year: Most of the time we set our goals in the wrong way. Read this article to learn how identity-based habits can help you achieve your goals more easily.

3 Ways to Break Bad Habits

  1. How to Break a Bad Habit and Replace It With a Good One: Want to learn how to break a bad habit? Read this article to discover the science of breaking bad habits and practical suggestions for making it happen.
  2. How Vietnam War Veterans Broke Their Heroin Addictions: By simply removing yourself from an environment that triggers all of your old habits, you can make it easier to break bad habits and build new ones.
  3. How to Declutter Your Mind and Unleash Your Willpower by Using “Bright-Line” Rules: A bright-line rule refers to a clearly defined rule or standard. It is a rule with clear interpretation and very little wiggle room. It establishes a bright line for what the rule is saying and what it is not saying. Most of us could benefit from setting brighter lines in our personal and professional lives.

How to Make a Habit Stick

  • How to Stick to Your Goals When Life Gets Crazy: Having a bad day is just one of the tiny emergencies that prevents most people from sticking to their goals and habits. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
  • How to Stick With Good Habits Every Day by Using the “Paper Clip Strategy”: Why do some good habits stick while others fail? Read this article about a strategy you use to stick with good habits every day.

How to Build Habits That Last and Design Life as You Want It

Want to learn everything you need to build better habits and break bad ones? I recommend the Habits Academy.

The Habits Academy is the world’s most comprehensive course on habits and the science of human behavior. More than 5,000 students have taken the course. Over 40 video lessons are available to Habits Academy students.

Best Habits Books

  • Atomic Habits by James Clear
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  • Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
  • Hooked by Nir Eyal
  • The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson

Want more great books on psychology and self-help? Browse my full list of the best psychology books and best self-help books.

Image via Wikipedia

By Claire Bradley

It’s still a week until payday, but your checking account is almost empty already. Where did all your money go? We all have our black holes, those money pits that seem to magically make our cash disappear. Here are six bad habits that will make you broke, and how to break them.

1. Window Shopping

It can be fun to browse the aisles, and see what’s out there. We all have our weak spots, like home goods, electronics or clothes – even if you don’t like to go to the mall. You don’t even have to leave the house to window shop anymore; those catalogs, the internet and commercials advertising the latest sale can be just as tempting.

Window shopping is a bad financial habit that takes some discipline to break. Staying away from stores and not requesting catalogs or email updates from your favorite stores is a good place to start. Before buying that latest item you pine for, ask yourself two questions: do I need it and can I pay cash for it? If your answer is no, walk away.

2. Carrying Lots of Cash

You know that paying with plastic is bad, but carrying lots of cash can be just as bad a habit. Cash can give you the feeling of having extra – fun money that’s just sitting there.

Only carry enough cash for what you need, and leave the rest at home. Avoiding plastic is great, but budgeting is just as important when choosing to pay cash. If you like the green, try budgeting your cash with envelopes: one for groceries, one for entertainment, etc.

3. Saving Your Info With Vendors

Those online shopping sites are so considerate to save your address and credit card information – some even have one-click ordering buttons, so you can buy something in just a second. It’s very easy, but also very dangerous. Not only does this easy shopping make you broke if you’re prone to impulse shopping, it also eliminates the feeling of spending money, since all you do is click.Don’t allow vendors to store your credit card information. Avoid signing up for emails and catalogs if those tempt you to shop when you really shouldn’t. It can be great to know about a sale, but if you didn’t need anything, it’s just another temptation.

4. Clipping Unneeded Coupons

We all feel the pinch in this tougher economy, especially when buying groceries. Clipping coupons is downright trendy today – but is it really such a good habit? Sure, getting fifty cents off that package of cookies or that brand-name detergent is a discount, but you may be surprised to find that your grocery bill isn’t really going down despite all your coupon clipping. The truth is that buying generic brands that are just as tasty is often cheaper; coupons can make us buy things even we didn’t plan for.

Start with a grocery list for the week, and then look at your clipped coupons. If you can use one, great, but try supermarket brands too for the best bottom line.

5. Shopping With Your Emotions

It was a rough week, or a good one, or you want to reward yourself for losing a few pounds, so you go shopping. You earned that new dress, that new gadget, that big pie – it was on sale, too. Letting your mood dictate your buying decisions is the quickest way to go broke.

Sober up before shopping. Do you need these items, and can you afford them? Be honest with yourself. Reward yourself by doing something that doesn’t cost, like taking a nice bath, or spending time with your loved ones.

6. Not Planning Ahead

It’s Tuesday, you’re tired, and have no idea what you’ll make for dinner. A great night for takeout, right? Using data from the BLS, it’s estimated that the average family of four spends over $4,000 on eating out – a very expensive habit that will make you broke in a hurry.

When you make your grocery list, make a menu for the week at the same time, so you always have ingredients for a meal. If your week is hectic, try cooking on Sunday and freezing meals for the week. Plan for lunches the same way; not only will you save money, you’ll eat healthier by avoiding fatty restaurant food.

The Bottom Line

It takes some discipline to break these bad habits. With some planning, discipline, and avoiding tempting situations, you can break these habits – and maybe even find you’ll have a little extra cash at the end of the month.

How to break bad habits i broke 3 bad habits in less than 2 months

Breaking a bad habit can be hard, you can feel like a prisoner to the habit. Fortunately, you don’t have to keep doing this bad habit. Whether it’s leaving lights on, biting your nails, or procrastinating, you can nip this bad habit in the bud and start living your best life! It’s going to take some hard work, depending on how long you’ve been doing this bad habit, but in the end, it’s well worth it!

1. Be Conscious Of Your bad habit

The first step in stopping a bad habit is actually recognizing that you have one! Maybe you’re not aware of anything you do that you could fix or anything that bothers your family or roommates. If you can’t think of anything, ask around, life’s all about self-growth so try and find something to fix in your life. If you’re aware that you leave all the lights on every time, or you are constantly biting your nails, recognize that and vow to make a change!

How to break bad habits i broke 3 bad habits in less than 2 months

2. Reward Instead Of Punishing Yourself

When you catch yourself in the act or already having committed your bad habit, don’t feel down or pity yourself or you might be feeling crappy all the time if you really can’t break the habit. Instead, feel good and reward yourself for any small feat in breaking the bad habit!

Pretty soon you’ll start loving yourself more and more for having more self-control and you’ll want to stop doing the bad habit for that feeling! It feels good to be in control of your life and your actions!

How to break bad habits i broke 3 bad habits in less than 2 months

3. Tell Other People You’re Going To Stop

If you’re comfortable sharing your bad habit with people, telling other people you’re going to stop it can be a huge help. What this does is it brings your friends or family in on the quest to stop the bad habit with you, now they’re on your side. If you have a good support group, they’ll hold you accountable and call you out any time they notice you falling into your old ways.

And you wouldn’t want to let them down would you? It’s always nice to do something with other people, and not feel like you’re fighting this bad habit alone, no matter how small.

4. Picture Your Life After You’ve Broken the Habit

If you’re constantly thinking about how your life would be if you broke this bad habit, you’ll want to start living that life. Let’s use two examples, first biting your nails. Imagine if you didn’t bite your nails, your hands would look so much more appealing and you wouldn’t always have them in your mouth looking like a child!

10 Instagram Ideas to Add to Your Feed

Or maybe you have a bad habit of always going out for food! If you went grocery shopping instead of eating out, you would probably have a lot more money saved and you would be eating healthier! Think of what life could be, and you might just snap that habit.

5. Don’t Give Up!

It may take a while for you to break the bad habit, and for you to form new, better ones but that’s OK! “Rome wasn’t built in a day!”, and you can’t expect to quit something you’ve been doing forever in just a day or two. It will be hard at first, but just stick with it and pretty soon you’ll be wondering how the heck you managed to do that bad habit for so long!

They say it takes around three weeks to break a bad habit, and another three weeks to form a new habit. So if you’ve been doing something you don’t like for years, it takes less than two months to fix! Not that bad in the grand scheme of things, don’t you think?

How to break bad habits i broke 3 bad habits in less than 2 months

Can you think of any other ways to break a bad habit? Let us know in the comments!

Featured image source: https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/317996423688871631/

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How to overcome unhealthy habits that are keeping you from losing weight and getting fit.

Most of us are creatures of habit. We buy the same foods from the same grocery store, prepare the same recipes over and over, and live within our own familiar routines. But if you’re serious about eating healthier and losing weight, you need to shake it up, change those bad eating habits, and start thinking differently about your diet and lifestyle.

The problem is that we get so comfortable in our ways that it’s hard to give up those old habits.

“Many people are skeptical about changing their diets because they have grown accustomed to eating or drinking the same foods, and there is a fear of the unknown or trying something new,” says John Foreyt, PhD, director of the Baylor College of Medicine Behavioral Medicine Research Center.

Even when you want to change, old habits die hard.

“Over time, habits become automatic, learned behaviors, and these are stronger than new habits you are trying to incorporate into your life,” says Foreyt.

Even those who manage to change their bad eating habits can easily fall back on their old ways during times of stress. When you’re feeling weak or vulnerable, automatic responses often override good intentions.

“Everything can be going along just fine until you hit a rough patch and feelings of boredom, loneliness, depression, or . any kind of stress,” says Foreyt.

Foreyt says tackling bad eating and exercise habits requires a three-pronged approach:

  • Being aware of the bad habits you want to fix.
  • Figuring out why these habits exist.
  • Figuring out how you’ll slowly change your bad eating and exercise habits into healthier new ones.

Another expert notes that you’re much more likely to be successful at changing your habits if you take things one step at a time. “Try to gradually incorporate new habits over time, and before you know it, you will be eating more healthfully and losing weight,” says Keri Gans, MS, RD, American Dietetic Association spokesperson and a nutritionist in private practice in New York.

Eating a healthier diet may be intimidating at first. But once you see for yourself how good it makes you feel — and how good healthy food can taste — you have a better chance of succeeding. Over time, your preferences will change and cravings for bad-for-you foods will fade away.

Continued

6 Steps to Fix Bad Eating Habits

Here are 6 steps to help you get rid of your old, unhealthy habits and create healthier ones:

1. Take Baby Steps. Making small changes in your diet and lifestyle can improve your health as well as trim your waistline. Some suggestions from the experts:

  • Start each day with a nutritious breakfast.
  • Get 8 hours of sleep each night, as fatigue can lead to overeating.
  • Eat your meals seated at a table, without distractions.
  • Eat more meals with your partner or family.
  • Teach yourself to eat when you’re really hungry and stop when you’re comfortably full.
  • Reduce your portion sizes by 20%, or give up second helpings.
  • Try lower-fat dairy products.
  • Make sandwiches with whole-grain bread and spread them with mustard instead of mayo.
  • Switch to cafe au lait, using strong coffee and hot skim milk instead of cream.
  • Eat a nutritious meal or snack every few hours.
  • Use nonstick pans and cooking spray instead of oil to reduce the fat in recipes.
  • Try different cooking methods, such as grilling, roasting, baking, or poaching.
  • Drink more water and fewer sugary drinks.
  • Eat smaller portions of calorie-dense foods (like casseroles and pizza) and larger portions of water-rich foods (like broth-based soups, salads, and veggies).
  • Flavor your foods with herbs, vinegars, mustards, or lemon instead of fatty sauces.
  • Limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks per day.

2. Become More Mindful. One of the first steps toward conquering bad eating habits is paying more attention to what you’re eating and drinking. “Read food labels, become familiar with lists of ingredients, and start to take notice of everything you put into your mouth,” says Gans. Once you become more aware of what you’re eating, you’ll start to realize how you need to improve your diet. Some people benefit by keeping food diaries.

3. Make a Plan; Be Specific. How are you going to start eating more fruit, having breakfast every day, or getting to the gym more often? Spell out your options. For example: Plan to take a piece of fruit to work every day for snacks, stock up on cereal and fruit for quick breakfasts, and go to the gym on the way to work three times a week. “To say ‘I am going to work out more,’ won’t help you,” says Gans. “What will help is thinking about when and how you can fit it into your lifestyle.”

Continued

4. Tackle a New Mini-Goal Each Week. These mini-steps will eventually add up to major change. For example, if your goal is to eat more vegetables, tell yourself you’ll try one new veggie each week until you find some you really enjoy. Or look for easy ways to add one more serving of vegetables to your diet each week until you reach your goal. Try topping your lunch sandwich with slices of cucumbers; adding shredded carrots to the muffins you have for breakfast; or topping your dinnertime pizza with sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms.

5. Be Realistic. Don’t expect too much from yourself too soon. It takes about a month for any new action to become habit. Slow and steady wins the race — along with a dose of vigilance.

6. Practice Stress Management. “Focus on dealing with stress through exercise, relaxation, meditation, or whatever works for you, so you don’t fall back into those bad habits during periods of stress or use food to help you cope with the situation,” advises Foreyt.

Sources

Keri Gans, MS, RD, spokesperson, American Dietetic Association; nutritionist, New York.

John Foreyt, PhD, director, Behavioral Medicine Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.

Why It’s So Hard to Change

How to break bad habits i broke 3 bad habits in less than 2 months

If you know something’s bad for you, why can’t you just stop? About 70% of smokers say they would like to quit. Drug and alcohol abusers struggle to give up addictions that hurt their bodies and tear apart families and friendships. And many of us have unhealthy excess weight that we could lose if only we would eat right and exercise more. So why don’t we do it?

NIH-funded scientists have been searching for answers. They’ve studied what happens in our brains as habits form. They’ve found clues to why bad habits, once established, are so difficult to kick. And they’re developing strategies to help us make the changes we’d like to make.

“Habits play an important role in our health,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Understanding the biology of how we develop routines that may be harmful to us, and how to break those routines and embrace new ones, could help us change our lifestyles and adopt healthier behaviors.”

Habits can arise through repetition. They are a normal part of life, and are often helpful. “We wake up every morning, shower, comb our hair or brush our teeth without being aware of it,” Volkow says. We can drive along familiar routes on mental auto-pilot without really thinking about the directions. “When behaviors become automatic, it gives us an advantage, because the brain does not have to use conscious thought to perform the activity,” Volkow says. This frees up our brains to focus on different things.

Habits can also develop when good or enjoyable events trigger the brain’s “reward” centers. This can set up potentially harmful routines, such as overeating, smoking, drug or alcohol abuse, gambling and even compulsive use of computers and social media.

“The general machinery by which we build both kinds of habits are the same, whether it’s a habit for overeating or a habit for getting to work without really thinking about the details,” says Dr. Russell Poldrack, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas at Austin. Both types of habits are based on the same types of brain mechanisms.

“But there’s one important difference,” Poldrack says. And this difference makes the pleasure-based habits so much harder to break. Enjoyable behaviors can prompt your brain to release a chemical called dopamine A brain chemical that regulates movement, emotion, motivation and pleasure. . “If you do something over and over, and dopamine is there when you’re doing it, that strengthens the habit even more. When you’re not doing those things, dopamine creates the craving to do it again,” Poldrack says. “This explains why some people crave drugs, even if the drug no longer makes them feel particularly good once they take it.”

In a sense, then, parts of our brains are working against us when we try to overcome bad habits. “These routines can become hardwired in our brains,” Volkow says. And the brain’s reward centers keep us craving the things we’re trying so hard to resist.

The good news is, humans are not simply creatures of habit. We have many more brain regions to help us do what’s best for our health.

“Humans are much better than any other animal at changing and orienting our behavior toward long-term goals, or long-term benefits,” says Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University. His studies on decision-making and willpower have led him to conclude that “self-control is like a muscle. Once you’ve exerted some self-control, like a muscle it gets tired.”

After successfully resisting a temptation, Baumeister’s research shows, willpower can be temporarily drained, which can make it harder to stand firm the next time around. In recent years, though, he’s found evidence that regularly practicing different types of self-control—such as sitting up straight or keeping a food diary—can strengthen your resolve.

“We’ve found that you can improve your self-control by doing exercises over time,” Baumeister says. “Any regular act of self-control will gradually exercise your ‘muscle’ and make you stronger.”

Volkow notes that there’s no single effective way to break bad habits. “It’s not one size fits all,” she says.

One approach is to focus on becoming more aware of your unhealthy habits. Then develop strategies to counteract them. For example, habits can be linked in our minds to certain places and activities. You could develop a plan, say, to avoid walking down the hall where there’s a candy machine. Resolve to avoid going places where you’ve usually smoked. Stay away from friends and situations linked to problem drinking or drug use.

Another helpful technique is to visualize yourself in a tempting situation. “Mentally practice the good behavior over the bad,” Poldrack says. “If you’ll be at a party and want to eat vegetables instead of fattening foods, then mentally visualize yourself doing that. It’s not guaranteed to work, but it certainly can help.”

One way to kick bad habits is to actively replace unhealthy routines with new, healthy ones. Some people find they can replace a bad habit, even drug addiction, with another behavior, like exercising. “It doesn’t work for everyone,” Volkow says. “But certain groups of patients who have a history of serious addictions can engage in certain behaviors that are ritualistic and in a way compulsive—such as marathon running—and it helps them stay away from drugs. These alternative behaviors can counteract the urges to repeat a behavior to take a drug.”

Another thing that makes habits especially hard to break is that replacing a first-learned habit with a new one doesn’t erase the original behavior. Rather, both remain in your brain. But you can take steps to strengthen the new one and suppress the original one. In ongoing research, Poldrack and his colleagues are using brain imaging to study the differences between first-learned and later-learned behaviors. “We’d like to find a way to train people to improve their ability to maintain these behavioral changes,” Poldrack says.

Some NIH-funded research is exploring whether certain medications can help to disrupt hard-wired automatic behaviors in the brain and make it easier to form new memories and behaviors. Other scientific teams are searching for genes that might allow some people to easily form and others to readily suppress habits.

Bad habits may be hard to change, but it can be done. Enlist the help of friends, co-workers and family for some extra support.

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Up until recently, we had three very bad habits in our home.

1. Nobody wanted to do the dishes. We have assigned chores and the person whose turn it was often spent the time before, during, and/or after doing the dishes whining, complaining, and/or grumbling about the task. Sadly, this sometimes included mom and dad!

2. Dishes piled up in the sink until chore time making chore time even more daunting.

3. I would often reach into the freezer when I passed the fridge and grab a handful of chocolate chips. This became my go-to when I felt stressed, frustrated, or bored.

How to break bad habits i broke 3 bad habits in less than 2 months

A few weeks ago, I had an inspired thought on how to break all three of these habits in one fell swoop. I announced that every time I walked by an empty sink, everyone would get a bit of chocolate. (And, as a corollary, no one got chocolate if there were dirty dishes in the sink.)

If I may say so, this was a stroke of genius. My kids began checking the sink every five minutes to see if there were any dishes they could take care of. They finished breakfast and ran to wash their bowls so there wouldn’t be anything in the sink when I finished my breakfast. And while I’m still eating some chocolate each day, it’s not a mindless reaching into the fridge anymore. My own attitude about the dishes is so much better too. I’m striving to wash as I go instead of letting them pile up, and that is making everyone’s chore time easier.

How to break bad habits i broke 3 bad habits in less than 2 months

This is how my sink looks more often than not now.

Now, I don’t think that eating 15 or 20 chocolate chips a day is going to hurt anyone health-wise, but I’m trying to eat as little sugar as possible so I’ve also been making my own chocolate for this endeavor. This recipe is an adaptation of many floating around the web. I first saw it from Chocolate-Covered Katie and soon after on Whole New Mom, and I tried it a number of times with mixed success. I’ve finally come up with proportions that seem to work every time now to make a chocolate that I love, so I thought I’d just share it in case any of you have had the mixed success I have. Because I love you, I just went and tested it one more time to make sure I had it right. 🙂

How to break bad habits i broke 3 bad habits in less than 2 months

The Lesson: Whether you’re breaking old habits or forming new ones, changing your behavior can seem like a daunting task – but there is a pretty simple formula for understanding how we can form (and change) our habits. In this particular talk, Brian Johnson details the three simple steps that you can use to break a bad habit. If you want to delve further and learn how you can use the three steps to build a good habit, you can visit Johnson’s website.

Notable Excerpt: “The three laws of breaking a bad habit: number one, make it invisible; number two, make it hard, rather than easy; and number three, make it terrible rather than awesome. So for our purposes, let’s assume that the habit you want to set is you want to use your phone less … first question, how do we make it invisible? Well, how about we set an alarm for when we want to put our phones away? Science says at least thirty minutes to an hour before our ideal bed time. Then when the alarm goes off, we shut down our phone and bury it in our closet … Second, how do we make it hard?”

The Speaker: Brian Johnson is a philosopher and founder of Optimize.me, a website, app, and free video series that help people to optimize their lives so they can be their best selves. He studies self-improvement books, then breaks them down into bite-sized chunks and “Philosopher‘s Notes” for busy people who want “more wisdom in less time”. He also offers Optimal Living classes and online training for your Hero’s Journey.

Podcast: Brian’s podcast, OPTIMIZE with Brian Johnson, features the best big ideas from the best optimal living books. More wisdom in less time (between 4-19 minutes each) to help you live your greatest life. Subscribe: Stitcher — iTunes — Podbean.

(WATCH the inspiring talk below)

How to break bad habits i broke 3 bad habits in less than 2 months

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