What Is The Easiest Way To Break A Bad Habit?
“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”
– Samuel Johnson
As per Wikipedia, “A habit, from the standpoint of psychology, is a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”
Have you ever wondered why do we cultivate habits? According to a psychological theory, human beings cultivate habits to remain safe: safe from the dangers of the unknown.
During pre-historic times, when we were still chimpanzees jumping from one tree to the other, searching for food, sex and shelter, this peculiar phenomenon of habits formulated and it still carries on. During those ancient times, when nothing was secured and permanent, we cultivated habits so that one part of the brain performs the predictable actions without any pressure; and the other part of the brain remains alert for anything new (and dangerous)
Habits synchronize our minds and make us feel safe. But the problem is, habits are easier to form, but almost impossible to break. Just ask a smoker, and he will tell the truth.
Why Do We Cultivate Habits?
New York Times writer Charles Duhigg has written an amazing book: The Power of Habit; wherein he has explained precisely how habits form.
There are three stages of the formation of habits, popularly known as the ‘habit loop’:
1. The Trigger: This is the stage which gives the hint to the mind that a repetitive action will save our brain power, and energy. It is the trigger which instructs the mind into an ‘automatic’ mode, wherein one part of the brain will repeatedly perform a task, almost mechanically.
2. The Behavior: This stage is the routine, the action itself. This stage cruises along nicely, as our brain has taken the decision to perform this activity, and there is no thinking involved. Let it be.
3. The Reward: Once the designated action is being performed by the brain, as a habit, a certain hormone gets released into our system, which makes us feel good. It’s the ‘reward’ for performing that habit. And the data of the ‘habit loop’ gets associated with this reward, and the cycle continues.
But Why Bad Habits Occupy Us?
If habits are so good for our brains, then why do we adopt bad ones?
James Clear, author of bestselling book: Transform Your Habits explains that mainly boredom and stress leads to bad habits. Right from small habits like biting nails to regular habits such as shopping without thinking about your credit limit, overeating etc starts from feeling bore or experiencing stress. Internally, the mind simply wants an action which is automated, without any thinking or ‘decision making’ exercise.
Think about your habit of checking email and Facebook notifications the first thing in the morning as you switch on your laptop. Think hard: It’s a habit to make your mind go numb, destroy your productivity and hamper your life. Now, think about the ‘habit loop’; and all the missing aspects will be connected. Your mind is accustomed to the ‘reward’ of such habits, and the loop continues.
Now, the only question remains is, how to break bad habit?
Easiest Way To Break A Bad Habit: Replace It With A New One
In several ways, habits actually occupy your minds, and make you a slave. Despite reminders and to-do lists, you feel weak to the bad habit, and simply let yourself flow in that bad direction. Despite knowing that it’s evil for your day’s productivity, you keep on doing that, often forgetting that it’s the ‘habit loop’ which is in place. The mind is getting its dopamine (the reward) and you are suffering!
Stopping a habit is simply waste of time: your mind is powerful than you.
Although there are myriad ways of changing habits, in our experience, it has been found that the easiest way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a positive one.
This replacement doesn’t come easy, as your mind is still hooked to the habit loop described above; and is starving of the reward to get the previous experience of less-brain work and more of mechanical actions. But by slowly replacing the bad habit with a good one, your mind will slowly adapt to the new ‘habit loop’ which is beneficial for your life.
Example, when Facebook notification alert entices you to open the website just once, don’t do it. Instead of that, develop a new habit of writing one sentence in your notebook. Write anything you want, but just don’t open that website.
Similarly, when the call of smoke comes in, remember that it’s just a habit, a virtual reality created by your mind. Breathe deeply, and do a small meditation session to create a new habit loop, and kick the bad habit once for all.
Replacing bad habits certainly takes time, but the strategy of replacing one bad habit with a new good habit works, and works excellently.
In the second part of the series, we will discuss some more, tried and tested methods of replacing the bad habit with a new one.
[Suggested Reading: #ProductivityHacks Series]