13 Things You Should Know About Breaking Bad Habits
Changing ingrained behaviours is tough. Here are simple coping strategies to help you overcome the not-so-great ones.
Avoid triggers and high-risk scenarios. If you’re trying to lower your alcohol consumption, for instance, stay away from bars and don’t keep booze around the house.
Expect some failure. “We beat ourselves up when we fail to meet our lofty objectives,” says Andy Blicq, the Winnipeg writer and director behind the 2014 documentary Slaves to Habit. “You have to forgive yourself and build on the mistakes you’ve made.”
Remember Blicq’s advice if you falter on your New Year’s resolution. According to research conducted at Pennsylvania’s University of Scranton, nearly a quarter of resolutions get abandoned within the first week of January. Sixty-four per cent of people stick with them for a month; 46 per cent last six months.
Social support, like a gym buddy, is essential, says Blicq. “Doing this alone, without some sort of help or advice, makes it more difficult.”
Divorce your vice from your schedule. If you begin every morning with a cigarette, try swapping in another part of your routine-like reading the news or eating breakfast-before smoking. It’ll be easier to wean yourself off nicotine if it’s not part of your regular timetable.
A habit consists of a cue (say, stress), a routine (shopping) and a reward (new items), according to New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, author of the 2012 book The Power of Habit. Recording where, when and in what context you give in to your habit can be the first step toward changing it.
Keep the cue but change the reward. If you bite your nails, try snacking or chewing a toothpick instead. “During that period, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a real change,” Duhigg writes. “Think of yourself as a scientist in the data collection stage.”
Being vigilant about behaviour helps, says a 2010 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Habits are unconscious actions, so monitoring them lowers their frequency.
Draining your energy by kicking one habit can make others more tempting. Case in point: a 2012 study in The Journal of Social Psychology showed that people in relationships were more likely to be unfaithful after resisting a plate of freshly baked cookies.