We develop many habits throughout our lives. Some are good, and others are bad. So, what is a habit? A habit is an act that you repeat over and over again until you do it without thinking. Habits are linked to specific associations. You do one action because it is associated with another activity – all habits have triggers.
- GOOD HABIT: You will brush your teeth in the evening because it is what you do before you go to bed to look after your dental hygiene.
- GOOD HABIT: You wash your hands after you go to the loo to stay clean and not spread germs.
- GOOD HABIT: Picking up a healthy snack when you feel hungry.
- GOOD HABIT: Setting realistic alarms to ensure you get to places on time.
- BAD HABIT: You might bite your nails because it’s what you do to deal with a stressful situation.
- BAD HABIT: Every time you hear your phone chime/buzz, you instantly pick it up.
- BAD HABIT: Being untidy because you are tired and do not want to do any more work.
- BAD HABIT: Procrastinating too much when you have tasks to complete.
Good habits can help you stay healthy, achieve your goals and live a happier life. However, it is so easy to pick up bad habits, but they can negatively affect your physical and mental health. It can be tricky to get out of a bad habit because you do it without thinking; the habit is engrained within you.
So, how do I break a bad habit?
The first step to breaking a bad habit is to try and understand the source of your habit. What is your trigger, and what craving is your bad habit satisfying?
So, take the nail-biting habit. If you do this, think about what causes you to do this. For example, you might find something at work a bit stressful, so you start getting overwhelmed. As a response, your body wants to find a way to deal with the stress. This could be by channelling your focus and attention onto something else to help calm you down. So, you end up biting your nails to satisfy your craving to not be stressed. Then, the more you do this, nail-biting gets associated with feeling stressed, so it becomes a habit.
Once you have identified the trigger (e.g. stress) to your bad habit (e.g. nail biting), try to find a healthier coping method to replace this. For example, you might need to take a 5-minute break to close your eyes and focus on your breathing to help calm you down. Maybe you need to get your stress out verbally, so you reach out to someone to help destress you. Or you can write your thoughts in a journal to get them out if you don’t want to speak to someone. Being active is also a great way to deal with stress, so you might decide to get up and shake the stress away.
To break a bad habit, you need to seek to change your associations to form a new, healthier routine.
So, how do I form and maintain good habits?
In addition to identifying your triggers, you need to make a commitment to yourself that you will maintain your good habits. The mindset is a powerful force for change, and if you make a conscious effort to focus on your habits, it can help you to get out of your comfort zone (aka your bad habit) and give you the self-motivation you need. Evaluate your habits, good and bad, as this will help you work towards increasing your good habits by replacing the bad. Be aware of your behaviours.
When you start to make changes to improve your habits, start small. Instead of jumping the gun, take small steps to success. Too many times people try to change overnight, but this is not realistic. This will lead to frustration, and you will likely not form the good habit intended. We recommend that you create a plan to help you on this journey. This can help you to identify the (small) steps you need to take to support your habit-forming goal.
As a starting point, you could set yourself a 30-day challenge to practice your new habit for a month. This challenge will make you consciously repeat the good habit over and over again. This will help this behaviour cement as a habit; before you know it, you will be doing it without thinking. It becomes a subconscious act.
When you work on changing your habits, seek support and feedback. You do not have to walk the road to success alone. Instead, ask someone you trust to support you and give feedback when needed. You can also research methods to help you online or by reading a book.
To start with, you need to identify your trigger and announce to the world what habit you want to change. Once you have done this, we have a 3-stage process to help give you a structure when trying to form good habits.
- Step 1: Painful Stage – Craving
- Step 2: Uncomfortable Stage – Response
- Step 3: Unstoppable Stage – Reward
Step 1 – Days 1-10: The Painful Stage – Craving
This stage is painful because it is the hardest part of the process. This is where a lot of people quit. This stage is all about trying not to give in to your craving. Take the nail-biting example. To break your habit loop, you need to dig deep and actively try to stop yourself from biting them. Use the people around you to help to identify and make you accountable when you are doing it. Their comments about slipping up might be hard to hear, but you need this to break your bad habit loop. This negative association towards your bad habit can help to override the connection between the trigger and the bad habit. So, you must delve deep and not snap at those trying to help you either!
Step 2 – Days 11-20: The uncomfortable stage – Response
Making it to stage two is a huge achievement, so if you have made it to this stage, congratulations! You are starting to be more conscious of your actions (i.e. biting your nails) and have been sticking to your goal. This is the response stage as you perform the habit you are trying to create or change. Your nails are starting to grow and look better already. You might have moments where you slip up, but you are more aware of your actions. Push through as your conscious mind will start to take over.
Step 3 – Days 21-30: The unstoppable stage – Reward
This stage is all about maintenance and is the reward section of the habit loop. You are now more in control of your habit as it is no longer happening subconsciously. Your bad habit (nail-biting) has either been replaced, or a new positive habit has been created instead. As habits are linked with associations, enjoying that your nails look better, are no longer painful, and are growing longer is now a positive association. This new association will replace your previous bad association, which will help you to keep your goal of no longer biting your nails.
What happens if I slip up?
Slipping up and reverting to an old habit will happen, and that’s okay. Remember that you perform a habit without thinking, so it will take time to change that association. So, make sure you don’t just give up when you slip up. Instead, make sure you continue and persevere – you will get there!
So, it’s now your turn. For the next 30 days, we challenge you to create a new positive habit. This can be a completely new habit or one to replace a bad habit that you already have – You’ve got this!
H is for Habits is a topic in our book Don’t Get Your Neck Tattooed’. So, to find out more on this topic as well as 25 other Life Skills, give this book a read!
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