Science-Backed Ways To Break a Bad Habit


| LAST UPDATE 12/07/2022

By Daria Appleby
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We know most things are out of our control. Whether this is good or not-so-good news, there is simply nothing we can do. But when it comes to bad habits, that's something our individual selves have been programmed to do. We started this mess, we have the ability to finish it. So, regarding bad habits, here are effective fixes to break them once and for all...

Bad habits stem from anywhere - whether this is something we picked up from our childhood or gradually grew into without realizing it. The behaviors we carry out become an automatic response to whatever has triggered them. So, let's get to the bottom of it. We know there's a way out, it might just take a little digging - and by digging, we mean time. Don't be intimidated by the powers of the brain, as we have the ability to change our personal strategies and re-wire ourselves. According to Benjamin Gardner, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Surrey in the U.K. who studies habits, he believes there is not one solid approach as this depends on the type of behavior that needs changing. However, he did clarify there are 3 techniques to choose from to stop ourselves from being subject to such behavior. 

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Start by acknowledging the trigger. According to LiveScience, Gardner gave the example of having a desire for popcorn "as soon as you walk into a movie theater." So, the theater is the trigger. We enforce the habit of buying popcorn to ensure satisfaction at the theater whilst watching a movie. But we can break this association. In hindsight, the popcorn victim has conditioned themselves to buy it in the case of a movie. So, they can either opt for no popcorn, avoid going to the theater or try a healthier alternative snack. So, the three strategies are self-discipline, avoidance, and replacement. To put things into a clearer perspective, Gardner also approached the nail-biting habit, something that can be common throughout an entire day. This habit can be done naturally or arise from boredom and stress. Because it's such a subtle habit, it might be better to opt for a stress ball (the replacement), try a nasty-tasting nail polish (avoidance), or even raise self-awareness in these scenarios and actively tell ourselves to stop (self-discipline).

Though these strategies are found to be highly effective, they are not for every habit in the world, which is okay. Sometimes, a habit might need a little extra attention in the hope that it will stop one day. Just remember, whichever strategy you choose, consistency is key. Experts say it takes 30 consecutive days to either start or break a habit, so give it a go and believe in yourself! You got this.

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