Many people have tried to let go of negative habits with little to no success. Be it smoking, compulsive eating, or even wasting precious time scrolling mindlessly through the social media applications, habits are not a child’s play.
Habits are the product of our brains, and fighting them is extremely hard, as the processes they represent are one of the most evolutionary-conserved learning processes known to science. Breaking habits come as a result of a change in the neural pathways in the brain.
It is true that forming a pattern is easier than changing one, so instead of forcing yourself to change something you have already learned, the best way to break the habit is to form a new pattern, based on the already existing one.
So, how to create a new pattern in the place of the one that so strongly prevails in our daily functioning?
Here are 9 easy steps you can practice every day.
1. Recognize and set your mind on it
The first step to solving any problem is admitting to yourself that you have one. You may have heard this one so far, but how much are you really aware of the negative habit? And most importantly, how willing are you to change it?
Start analyzing the habit mindfully; recognize every part of it; accept it; set your intention.
When you set your intention firmly, you start moving things in the direction of achieving that intention. Make that intention your ambition and be aware of everything it involves.
2. Analyze the effect the habit has on you
While analyzing the elements that make up the habit, turn your focus on how that habit affects you. And we’re not talking whether if that habit is healthy or not. Knowing the facts never worked, why should it now?
Instead, see what emotions that habit triggers; accept those emotions; let go of those emotions the moment they come. You need to become aware of everything that is going on inside you.
3. Shift your focus
Habits are the result of actions that seem rewarding to the brain, which means you need to start giving yourself new rewards that would be more beneficial to you.
Learn why that habit feels rewarding and try to find some other activity that would produce a similar (or better) rewarding effect.
Does smoking relax you? Next time you feel the urge, why not go for a walk outside, or perhaps even for a run? You will feel even more relaxed from that. Or perhaps you feel better after eating some nice sugary comfort food? Why not try almonds instead? The tryptophan they contain is sure to boost your serotonin.
4. Use your imagination
Whatever you decide to take on as a new habit, rewind it in your mind whenever you can. Daydream about it while you are not at it. Strengthening the positive thoughts that relate to that habit will surely boost your enthusiasm and trigger a positive feeling in your brain that will strengthen the new neural pathways.
5. Pay attention to your thoughts
Your thoughts will surely pop the old habits in your head. However, being aware of those thoughts is a very important step to letting them go. Just like in meditation, turning your focus to a more peaceful activity (like breathing) is a good way to let those thoughts pass and leave.
Whenever a thought related to your old habit emerges, simply communicate a “no” back or “cancel” it and let it go away.
6. Try aversion therapy
This kind of approach does not work well for everybody, but if you think it is going to do you any good, you could give it a shot.
Remember the nasty images on the cigarette packs? They are put there to simply gross you out. Well, why not start imagining the worst-case scenario for each of your negative habits?
Like for sweets, for example, tell yourself that they were made in factories, that they have been intentionally made that way to make you addicted to them, or that they make you feel really bad.
7. Make a specific plan
When you are aware of every aspect of your habit, create a solid plan on how to handle each situation and what activities to take up. Make it official in your head and keep the decision with you at all times.
Letting your brain know that you are working toward achieving a goal and that you are focusing on each of the specifics that work involves, your brain will acknowledge this and will work with you.
8. Shift your point of view
Many people are afraid of the obstacles that are sure to arise in such a big challenge. Take the inevitability of obstacles as a challenge and transform your fear into courage.
You should be aware that you are stepping out of a comfort zone and that there is a challenge outside which you need to tackle. Make a distinction between the emotions that are caused by leaving the old habit and those which inspire you to move forward and look at the negative emotions from a different angle.
9. Don’t make your plan public
It has been scientifically proven that revealing your personal plans publicly ruins the outcome – especially if people put their trust into your ability to achieve it. This is because your brain starts associating you with the image you are trying to present, and you will soon stop working toward achieving that image (as it has already been achieved in your mind.)
So, don’t brag about it, as you don’t really need the approval for doing something which is healthy for you. Instead, focus on doing it and tell the others when you have achieved.
Whatever habit you are trying to break, you should know that you have all it takes to succeed. Put more trust in yourself and never underestimate your potential to change the reality according to your intentions and ambitions.