Everyone has at least one bad habit. It could be smoking or biting your fingernails, driving fast or chewing with your mouth open, but whether or not you realize it, your bad habit is causing problems in your life. It’s an understatement to say bad habits are hard to break; in fact, when you try to end them cold turkey, habits are nearly impossible to get rid of and most quitters return to their bad habits not long after they’ve stopped.
The truth is that not all habits are bad ones. Good habits, like exercise routines and bed times, can be just as addictive as bad ones, but they work to better your life instead of worsen it. Thus, the easiest way to end bad habits forever is to replace them with good ones. Breaking and creating habits can be difficult, but if you follow these steps, you’ll be in habit recovery in no time.
How a Habit Works
Researchers time and again have shown that habits, good or bad, follow a strict pattern of reminder, routine, and reward.
The first step, “reminder,” is the trigger for the behaviour. A reminder can be anything detected by your senses, from taste and touch to sight and sound. For example, the clock hits noon, which initiates your hunger for lunch — even if you aren’t particularly hungry. Alternatively, walking around your neighborhood, you might smell a barbecue, which makes you yearn for a good burger or steak.
The “routine” is the actual act of the habit, like daily exercise or drinking an alcoholic beverage.
Finally, the “reward” is the perceived benefit you receive from your habit. If your habit is beneficial, your reward will be satisfying in the long term, but if your habit is bad, your reward may seem advantageous while it actually punishes you. As long as you feel positive after completing the behavior, you will continue to repeat the habit over and over again.
How to Quit a Habit
The idea that you can simply stop performing a habit with memory or motivation is a fallacy. No matter the strength of your willpower or your determination to stop your habit, it is human nature to forget or revert back into old routines. In truth, the absolute only way to eliminate a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. Your new, good habit should be a sufficient substitute for the old habit, meaning it should closely replicate the reward the bad habit provided, and it should make use of the same reminders as the old habit.
Let’s take smoking as an example. Most smokers are aware of the insurmountable difficulty of quitting cigarettes, but if they attempted to replace cigarettes with a less noxious nicotine delivery system, like e-cigarettes, more smokers would find success. E-cigarettes are more effective as a cessation tool because they rely on the same triggers and incentives as traditional cigarettes — they require inhalation and provide warmth and “smoke,” unlike nicotine gum and patches. Plus, they provide additional rewards in the customizable flavors and drastically lowered expenses.
How to Replace a Habit
This isn’t to say that changing one’s habits is simple. In fact, there are many tips and tricks even experienced psychologists use to swap habits. If you’re having trouble with your habits, make sure your substitution follows these guidelines.
Imagine success. You won’t find your bad habits disappearing if you continue to believe in your own failure. When you are experiencing difficulty in your substitution, visualize your life complete with all the good habits you hope for, and you will be able to overcome any obstacles of your old, negative habits.
Accept support. You are more likely to achieve your goals if you partner up with someone hoping for the same changes. If you are the only person in your group of friends attempting to quit smoking, you are less likely to succeed. Encourage others to exchange their bad habits for good ones like you are, or seek out groups or individuals looking to provide real support.
Stay organized. The key to adopting a new habit is to integrate it into your previous habit system as well as to repeat it as much as possible. The more triggers you have for your new habit, the better, but make sure you’re aware of any trigger that could derail your attempts. Write down a plan for your habit change, including a timeline of milestones and any potential obstacles that might appear. During times of need, reread your notes to remind yourself what you’re trying to accomplish.