How To Break Bad Habits According To Science

Every single year since I was seven years old, my New Year’s Resolution had been to stop biting my nails. I saw my best friend’s long nails, painted with glitter nail paint, and shades of pink that looked out of place on my bitten-down nails and I wondered why I just couldn’t stick to it. Why couldn’t I break the habit?

Similarly, as I got older. I wondered why I struggled to create the habits I wanted to. Why couldn’t I work out every day? Why didn’t I learn a language, stop leaving clothes on the floor, etc? I’m sure we’ve all been there.

There are actually some psychological tricks to breaking bad habits, and actually, it all boils down to understanding the habits cycle and how a habit gets started. If you’ve got a list as long as your arm of habits you want to break, don’t worry, here are a few tips for becoming your best self…

1
Understand the psychology of habits

According to psychology, habits are broken down into three main components. Cue, routine, reward. Your habits are triggered by a cue, which then prompts the routine and gives you a reward. In something like nail biting it might be a relief from anxiety if you’re eating junk food the reward is definitely in the chocolate bar. You need to realize that the habits you have now have been created by repeating this loop, and in order to break it, you have to get under your own skin and figure out why.

2
Explore your cues 

Battling a bad habit will have to be a daily routine in itself. You’ll have to open your planner and write down your cues. In a study done by Indiana University, researchers found that people who type up notes and lists perform worse than those who write the same notes and lists down when it comes to exams and studies. This fact can help you when it comes to beating your cues because you’re more likely to remember to actively tackle your bad habits if you’re keeping track of them.

You can start by planning your life in your Getting Stuff Done planner, track your to-dos, tick off your water intake, expenses, meal planning, and more. But on the lined page on the left-hand side, make a small list of cues you notice throughout the day. For example, if you’re trying to stop snacking and find yourself tempted to go and grab a packet of crisps, think about what triggered it and write it down. Avoiding your cues is the first step to beating a bad habit. 

3
Replace the bad habit with a good one

Even if you’re aware of your cues and actively trying to avoid them, your brain will still want to replace the old routine with a new one. Every time you feel a cue for a snack coming on, grab yourself something healthy instead, or go for a walk around your office. Your brain will condition itself to create a new ‘habit loop’ replacing the old, bad behavior, for good habits instead.

4
Visualize it to achieve it

Honestly, there is nothing more effective than visualizing your goals and dreams. That’s why vision boards are so effective, you’ve got to visualize your success to put it out into the Universe and make it happen. To do that, start by writing down the things you have in mind and want to achieve, and collect images that reflect how you’ll feel if you make it happen. If it’s something simple like nail biting, try to put positivity into the mix by choosing light, bright, vibrant images. When you believe in the magic you can make happen, you’ll achieve it. Keep these visual prompts around your house, in your planner, wherever you’ll see them the most and remind yourself – you’ve got this!

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Featured photo: Chriselle x JOA

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