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How to break a bad habit (or start a new one)

How to break a bad habit (or start a new one)

Habits are part of the function of our brain. They have a purpose. That being, to make decisions with less effort and energy. When you get ready for work, you don’t constantly have to plan each day over and over. It’s become a habit. It’s efficient and easy. Think of a time when that routine has been disrupted? The effort seems to increase exponentially. Do you perhaps forget things you wouldn’t normally? Bad habits are those which we would consider as detrimental to our overall wellbeing or productivity. 2hrs of Netflix to “wind down”anyone? See if you can take some time right now to think of 2 bad habits in your life and 2 good habits. I find it’s actually much harder to think of the good ones. So how do we break these bad habits or form more good ones?


Step 1. Destress.

Generally our bad habits will come at a time of high stress. Maybe occupational, maybe relationships, whatever the case these high stress moments will see our bad habits making themselves known. The problem here is that we often try to change the habit at that point of stress. This is the hardest time to do so. Not only that but we don’t replace it with anything. If you want to quit smoking, what else do you do on your break at work? What do you do instead of netflix? Just sit quietly on the couch for an hour staring into space? No, we need something else. The problem is it’s very difficult to start a new behaviour under stress. The best option is to practice the new behaviour when you are calm. Create a new cue, act, reward pattern so that your brain establishes the value of that behaviour making you more likely to seek it in times of stress.


This brings us to step 2.

Know your Cues.

If habits always are always formed with the same pattern. Cue. Behaviour. Reward. 

Knowing what cue will trigger your bad behaviour is critical to changing it. If you know that walking past a specific shop will make you want to walk in and by a bucketful of fried chicken that you don’t need then the trick here is not to try and stop buying the chicken but to just change the walking route. We are action oriented creatures, if you say to yourself “stop eating fried chicken” you brain still hears “fried chicken” whereas if you say, “walk past the river” your brain will accept it much more readily. 


Step 3. Make it worthwhile

You have to be able to explain, understand and value the reason for the change. This seems logical but is often a lot harder than people realise. Take exercise for example. Usually our reasoning behind this is a social pressure, a lack of confidence, a discomfort in ourselves. These are very difficult things to articulate and understand. Not only that but you won’t get the reward in those areas until much further down the track. Exercise as a habit is hard. If we examine the trend in fitness these days though there’s an obvious pattern. It’s all about the community. People are trying to build social collectives around physical activity. This is a great thing. Humans are inherently social creatures and being a part of a group of having a strong sense of belonging is a very powerful motivator. My advice to you, dig deep to find the reasons behind your habits and create powerful motives to be more healthful.


Step 4. Be patient 

You may have heard the saying it takes 30days to make a habit. This comes from a study looking at just that, how many days did it take people on average to form a habit. Heré’s the rub. In that study the durations ranged anywhere from 17days to 257days!!! 

The point being that we are all different. If you relapse, that’s fine. It’s normal. Revisit point 3 and reaffirm the value of those habits you want to make or why you want to break them. Touch base with a friend or loved one who can help remind you of these things if your reasoning seems lost. 


The Oblique Community is full of like minded people. Perhaps there’s an opportunity there to make some new habits or break some old ones with a bit of support!

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