31. How to break bad habits

31. How to break bad habits

We all want to break bad habits because they prevent us from accomplishing our goals in life. I wrote in last week’s blog that some habits are spiritual issues.

But there are some habits we can easily remove. Experts say that the biggest reason why we struggle to remove bad habits is lack of “awareness” how habits work. Productivity Expert Michael Hyatt says that there are three stages to habit: Trigger, Behaviour and Reward

First stage is “Trigger”. It is often something we see with our eyes or certain feelings. So this is something that you notice everyday, such as food, TV or Computer monitor. Or it can be feelings of stress, hunger, tiredness or emptiness after work or school.

Second stage is “Behaviour”. Many times we equate behaviour as habit itself but it is simply our response to the trigger.

Last stage is “Reward”. This is the main reason why we chose certain behaviour in the first place because at this stage we experience “dopamine hit”. Dopamine is chemical messenger that gets released to give sense of “pleasure” in our brain. Its abudant release is associated with addiction and plays major role in reward circuitry of human brain.

So this is how our habit works: When we see (or feel) a trigger, we choose a certain behaviour. If that behaviour gave us “reward” (pleasure, relaxation…) then next time we see the trigger again, we choose the same behaviour as last time to get the same reward.

The problem is we often don’t have control over the “trigger”. To make the matter worse, researchers say that your brain gives you a dopamine hit whenever your eyes encouter something you associate with the reward. This is why once certain behaviour becomes a habit, it is hard to break it because we can already taste the reward before we even do anything!

However, there is a way to effectively change our bad habit. If I described to you in such a detail how a “polar bear” looks like for 15 minutes, you would find it very difficult to not think about the poloar bear when I ask you to stop thinking about it. But if I ask you to think about an “eagle” with enough explanation, you would find it very easy to forget about the bear. This is the “law of displacement”. It is difficult to stop a behaviour but it is much easier to “swap” it with a different one. By choosing a different response to a trigger for some time, we can create a new reward circuitary, which becomes our new habit. Setting up an artificial reward for choosing a different response (like giving yourself a chocolate or extra break) can also help in the beginning.

Remember, it all begins with your “awareness”. Once you can clearly identify your trigger, behaviour and reward, you are already half way in winning the battle with your bad habits. Once you know “why”, you will have a better idea of “what” to do.