How to Break a Bad Habit Scientifically

We all have that one habit that we’ve tried to break a dozen times. Yet here we are, still stuck with it. Trying and failing to break a bad habit is frustrating. It may even make you think something is wrong with yourself, but that is not true. Most of us simple have never learned the right way to remove a bad habit from our lives. In today’s post, we’ll look at the easy, scientifically-supported method of rewiring our brains to eliminate bad habits. If you want to improve your life this year, you need to finally get rid of those harmful habits that are standing between you and the best version of yourself. Here we go!

  1. Select a bad habit. You can’t fight what you can’t see. Write down the specific bad habit you want to break.
  2. Understand your situation. You aren’t weak or dumb or lazy or whatever. You keep following this bad habit because your brain keeps setting you up for failure. Guilt and shame are not warranted here nor are they helpful. Anyone including you can change habits, we just need to know the proper method.
  3. Get and read The Power of Habit. Charles Duhigg’s book is mind-blowing. He’s an investigative reporter at the New York Times who decided to interview marketers, doctors, and scientists to understand why people do the things they do and more importantly, how we can change habits that are hurting us. I’ll summarize his key idea here, but do yourself a favor and get this book. It’s a fun read and will change everything you thought you knew about how companies take advantage of habit formation to sell you things.
  4. Identify your Habit Loop. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg lays out the idea of the Habit Loop. It has 3 parts – cue, routine, reward. All habits have these 3 fundamental parts. The cue is what triggers a craving for a particular behavior, the routine is the actual behavior, and the reward is the positive feeling your brain receives after completing the behavior. For example, if I drink a lot when I’m out with friends, the cue may be the sounds of the bar, seeing my friends ordering beers, or the smell of alcohol in the room. The routine is me ordering beer after beer after beer. The reward might be fun, the feeling of drunkenness, a feeling of bonding with friends, or the surge in self-confidence we all feel after drinking. It will take time, but you need to identify exactly what the cue, routine, and reward are for your particular habit.
  5. Replace the Routine. In The Power of Habit, Duhigg argues that removing bad habits is very hard because it takes willpower to deny yourself the reward that comes from the routine you already have. Instead, it is far easier to just replace the cue with another one that gives a similar reward. If you crave connection with friends for example, cutting our drinking and staying home will be brutally hard because you are denying yourself that chance to connect. Switching out drinks with trips to the ballpark with friends or with a board-game name with friends can be much easier because you are still providing yourself the reward, just through a new routine.
  6. Experiment and Document. You can’t be sure you have actually identified the real cue, routine, and reward until you test and document. Test your idea and if you find the desire for the bad habit reduced, you can be certain you have successful diagnosed your Habit Loop. If the cravings are just as strong as ever, you need to consider that there are possible cues and rewards.

What habit is holding you back from being all that you can be? Follow these 6 steps and experience the joy and freedom that comes from taking control of your habits.

To your daily growth!


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