So many people struggle to create healthy habits. Especially when the holidays are around + it gets chilly out!
You do too, right? I know… I have also had a hard time with this over the years.
Habits can be tricky.
It’s easy to say we want to make changes + become a better version of ourselves. Especially around New Years!
But, in order to make positive changes to your lifestyle, you need to address unhealthy habits sabotaging your success.
I recently read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Charles Duhigg. In his book, he breaks down habits so you not only understand HOW to change them, but how they are formed in the first place. That’s the only way you can truly break unhealthy habits once and for all.
So many of us are quick to want to make positive changes. But, we often don’t take the time to learn HOW the unhealthy habits even came to be. Only then are you able to unpack them + design healthier habits to up-level your life!
Want to learn how to break unhealthy habits?
Keep reading to learn how to attack your unhealthy habits at the core so you can finally ditch them + start creating healthier ones!
How to Break Unhealthy Habits For Good!
WHAT ARE HABITS?
Habits are the things we repetitively do every single day that ultimately make up who we are. Many of our habits develop over the years on an unconscious level based on our wants, needs, and desires.
Think about it… brushing your teeth, making your coffee, driving to work, putting our clothes on. All of these are habits. It doesn’t take much mental strength or decision making skills to do any of these. That’s because they have become an engrained part of who we are.
While we go through these mundane tasks, our brain is able to take the focus off of that everyday behavior. This allows us to be able to work on things like decision making or problem solving while the habit is being performed.
Take a moment + think about an average day that you have. I bet you can think of at least 50+ things you do every single day that don’t require much thought at all. That’s because they have become habits.
HOW ARE HABITS FORMED?
Habits are formed when we repeat a behavior over + over again in order to get some sort of desired result. For example, when you make coffee in the morning habitually, you do it to enjoy the taste or to get a caffeine jolt before work. In the beginning, you will consciously be completing the behavior. But, over time, the action becomes routine and more automatic.
When you do a behavior over and over to get a result, the pattern becomes etched in your brain. That’s why you will sometimes drive to a familiar place + will have a vague memory of the trip even happening. While you were driving, your brain was busy problem solving + you automatically went through the motions.
When a habit is being formed, the prefrontal cortex in your brain is activated. This area that controls your movements and emotions is called the basal ganglia. It registers the routine action happening repetitively, eventually converting it into a habit!
This applies to both good and bad habits. So, if you are trying to break unhealthy habits you need to look at how that habit is made up in order to find ways to make changes. Let’s discuss the parts of a habit in detail in the next section.
BREAKDOWN OF THE “HABIT LOOP”
In the book The Power of Habit, Duhigg calls this repetitive behavior in our brains a “habit loop.”
The loop is made up of three distinct parts:
- CUE: A trigger that tells your brain to start the process of completing a habit. It can be related to almost anything: time, place, feeling, object, people, activity, etc.
Example: Your alarm goes off at 7am.
- ROUTINE: The behavior you complete in order to get a desired result. Often, this is what people think of when they hear the word habit.
Example: You walk to the kitchen, brew coffee, + drink it.
- REWARD: What you get from completing the routine behavior. This helps your brain remember this particular “habit loop” in the future. If I do (routine) then I will get (reward) in the future.
Example: You feel energized.
*Your cravings to get the reward initiate the habit loop to occur over + over. You want to have the coffee every single morning because you CRAVE the feeling of being energized.
This habit loop is why it can be SO hard to break unhealthy habits that we create. Many of us struggle with the temptations of getting the reward once the cue is in place. So, the behavior becomes automatic + our willpower crumbles.
Take a moment. Think about an unhealthy habit you want to break (eating sugar foods, biting your nails, drinking wine after dinner, scrolling through social media…). Try to identify the cue, routine, + the reward.
Often, it is most difficult to find the cue. So, identify the behavior first + what reward you get in return. Then, try to figure out what triggers you to start this habit loop over + over.
YOU CAN’T COMPLETELY GET RID OF A HABIT
This is where my mind was blown when I read this book. I always approached trying to break unhealthy habits by focusing on making new, healthy ones that were isolated from the unhealthy habits I made.
What I mean is, I never stopped to understand WHY I was even completing the unhealthy habits in the first place. I always thought that you had to just make yourself stop doing the bad habit cold turkey + that was that.
But, Duhigg gives very compelling (+ detailed) examples in his book that helps us understand that a habit can never completely go away!!! Cravings we have become part of who we are + are impossible to rid of for good. So, we will always be seeking a reward when something triggers us to realize we are craving something. Therefore, the cue + reward cannot be changed.
So, do you have to live with unhealthy habits forever???
HOW TO MAKE AN UNHEALTHY HABIT HEALTHIER
Don’t get discouraged! You don’t need to eat those cookies every night till the end of time!
You can alter your unhealthy habits by focusing on replacing the routine (behavior) with a healthier behavior.
For example, you realized that at the end of every work day you feel stressed (cue), drink a glass of sugary wine (routine), + feel relaxed (reward).
Instead of drinking the wine, find a behavior that gives you the same relaxed result! Possibly: cuddling with your significant other, calling a friend and chatting, or eating fruit drizzled with dark chocolate. These are all behaviors that could make you feel relaxed.
It comes down to experimentation + continued repetition to reinforce the new habit loop. Not everyone will feel the same relaxed sensation when drinking wine + talking to a friend. So, when trying to break unhealthy habits, you need to find what works for you!
Stop driving yourself crazing trying to make all these new + lofty healthy habits, only to fail + feel bad about yourself. Instead, start focusing analyzing your current habits + finding ways to make them even better! Then, focus on adding new habits into the mix.