Bad Habits: they’re easy to make but hard to break. You might be wondering, “what is a ‘bad’ habit?”
Some common examples that come to mind when people are asked this question are:
- Biting fingernails
- Alcohol consumption
- Daily coffee drinking
- Eating too much fast food
- Cracking knuckles
- Using devices late at night
If you find yourself doing some, or even all of these things – don’t worry – habits come in all shapes and sizes. It’s never too late to work towards getting rid of these ‘bad’ habits. These are just some examples of ‘bad’ habits that we tend to have as a society. It’s always important to know when a ‘bad’ habit begins to form and how to break it if this comes to be the case.
What is a habit?
In Psychology, we define a habit to be ‘any regularly repeated behaviour that requires little or no thought and is learned rather than innate. It is developed through reinforcement and repetition’ (Britannica, 2019).
Another way of looking at it would be you reacting as if you were in ‘autopilot’ mode.
Bad habits are known to revolve around negative behavior patterns. They can at times break the law or societal norms. You might be annoying those around you, or being disrespectful without meaning to be. They can stop you from doing things that make you feel happy or accomplished.
How are they formed?
Habits are formed because of reward-based learning. We originally use this kind of learning for stimuli that are meant to help us survive. Some examples would be a healthy diet and exercising.
Exercising is a good habit because it releases endorphins and produces other chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These chemicals play a big part in our rewards system and are known as the ‘feel-good’ chemicals in our bodies. A trigger, behavior, and reward are all very important components of this habit forming process.
Every time that you drink that extra glass of wine or bite your finger nails these three components play a role. Initially your body tends to behave this way because it is trying to release some stress. We then turn to these habits to help us feel better, which reinforces the learning. Eventually the action becomes automatic to us, it feels right and natural.
It’s important to know that they don’t always take a long time to form. They can be formed after even one experience, especially if there are emotions involved.
How can I break a bad habit?
Breaking a bad habit is never easy. It takes a lot of dedication, a strong mindset and time. If all three of these characteristics are there you are on the right path to learning to overcome that habit.
Replace: Start off by replacing; replace, replace, replace!
For example, if your bad habit consists of drinking too much coffee; replace it. Every time that you think you need coffee drink something else instead. It could be a juice that you enjoy, or a smoothie that you find delicious. Replace it until you become satisfied with the idea of drinking something else in its place. Of course, don’t replace it by drinking soda, alcohol or other things that aren’t good for your health either. Feel free to explore your options, they’re endless!
Define: Define your goals and mission.
What exactly do you want your end goal to be and how will you get there? Make sure that the habit you are trying to break is reasonable and it matches your priorities. Don’t set yourself up for failure. For example, if you are a regular procrastinator, reduce your list. Everyday work on one thing that you normally don’t want to do. Don’t expect yourself to try to finish everything on your to do list in one day. Slowly integrate things you avoid doing into your daily schedule and soon enough they will be a part of your ‘good’ habit list as opposed to the ‘bad’ list.
Ask: Don’t be afraid to ask a friend or loved one for help.
You can ask them to remind you of your goal every time you take a step back, instead of a step forward, towards reaching it. For example, if your goal is to stop biting your fingernails, you can ask that person to remind you of your end goal if they see you doing it. Having someone watching you and reminding you can at times motivate you to stop. Negative reinforcement is the key here; work towards getting rid of the negative emotions that come with someone having to constantly remind you to stop.
These are just some examples of how you can take control of your habits and redefine them today. Make sure to clearly state your goal and work towards it everyday. If you fail try not to be discouraged. Start again the moment you realize that you moved away from your goal instead of towards it. Bad habits have the power to negatively affect your wellness or health, but you have the power to change that today. Taking that first step is the hardest, but it’s the most important part.