We’ve all done it, no one’s exempt. Yes, we’ve all developed habits as a way of life. Many habits are helpful, they positively contribute to regulating our lives but some are bad habits and we can become slaves to these. The first thing we need to do to conquer entrenched habits that aren’t good for us is to recognize them. But that’s the easy part.
Old, deeply ingrained habits are notoriously difficult to kick. Remember all those New Year’s resolutions to shake bad habits and change the way we do things? Same again next year, and the next. We know we need to take control of these weaknesses but where to start?
To overcome unwanted habits, we need to understand the cause and then develop new behaviors that sideline the unwanted behaviors. We must implement strategies that will empower us to take action and reverse the hold that old habits have over us.
But what course of action can we adopt to take control of our bad habits? Decide which habits you have that are destructive and need unlearning. Then we need to form a framework upon which to build new, more beneficial habits. First, we start with understanding the components of the cycle of a habit; the cues (trigger); the response (your action); and the reward (the result).
Starting with the ‘cue’, we have to identify what triggers or initiates the unwanted behavior. The most fundamental cues for habits are cravings. These can certainly influence your behavior. You need to be brutally honest when analyzing your situation. Once you can recognize what triggers the behavior you are already closer to overcoming it. Following through, what is the ‘reward’, you experience by letting the habit occur? Having identified the trigger for a habit and what the reward is, you need to intervene in the logical progression of that process. Disrupt the process of cause and effect.
The best place to start is to analyze the craving which anticipates the reward. Now you can derail the feedback loop of the cause of the habit and the reward it is aiming to achieve. Start with unraveling the craving.
The strategies you put in place will depend on the circumstances. By understanding the real cause and effect cycle, you are better able to interrupt, modify or totally eliminate the process.
Let’s look at some common situations. Someone suffering anxiety may turn to unhelpful behaviors. Anxiety (the cue) may initiate overeating (the action), the person turns to calorie-rich foods or habitual snacking in order to feel better (the reward). For others, their emotional state triggers an urge to over-indulge in alcohol, which is another destructive habit.
So, what more positive strategies can you implement to circumvent the grip a habit has? We can’t always remove the root cause of the behavior – the cravings. For example, there will be some times when a person may feel anxiety and that situation might be out of their control. But their response to it is something they can modify.
So, if you are not able to do something to prevent the cause and return to a sense of wellbeing, we replace the resulting unwanted behavior with something else that will alleviate the feelings of anxiety and restore a sense of comfort.
Rather than reaching for the alcohol or raiding the fridge, we could try something new and interesting instead. Join a gym or a local sports club. Consider volunteering at a shelter for people much worse off than yourself, or a shelter for abandoned pets. Take up drama classes, buy a bicycle, join a conservation group. Go to a prayer meeting.
It is amazing what your new engagement with other people passionate about the same interests as you can do for your mental wellbeing, and sense of comfort.
By adopting these positive strategies, you have interrupted the entrenched bad habit cycle and still reached the reward, which is a better state of comfort and a good sense of wellbeing. The cue may be the same, and the reward is the same but the process of completing the cycle has totally changed, for the better.
We can all apply these analytical processes to understand, unravel and reprogram most of our bad habits to achieve a healthy, satisfying result. Simply take alternative action to turn bad habits into good habits.