Neuroscience reveals 3 steps to break bad habits for good

Breaking Bad Habits

Neuroscience reveals 3 steps to break bad habits for good

Why It’s So Hard to Change

Send us your comments

If you know something’s bad for you, why can’t you just stop? About 70% of smokers say they would to quit. Drug and alcohol abusers struggle to give up addictions that hurt their bodies and tear apart families and friendships. And many of us have unhealthy excess weight that we could lose if only we would eat right and exercise more. So why don’t we do it?

NIH-funded scientists have been searching for answers. They’ve studied what happens in our brains as habits form. They’ve found clues to why bad habits, once established, are so difficult to kick. And they’re developing strategies to help us make the changes we’d to make.

“Habits play an important role in our health,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Understanding the biology of how we develop routines that may be harmful to us, and how to break those routines and embrace new ones, could help us change our lifestyles and adopt healthier behaviors.”

Habits can arise through repetition. They are a normal part of life, and are often helpful. “We wake up every morning, shower, comb our hair or brush our teeth without being aware of it,” Volkow says.

We can drive along familiar routes on mental auto-pilot without really thinking about the directions. “When behaviors become automatic, it gives us an advantage, because the brain does not have to use conscious thought to perform the activity,” Volkow says.

This frees up our brains to focus on different things.

Habits can also develop when good or enjoyable events trigger the brain’s “reward” centers. This can set up potentially harmful routines, such as overeating, smoking, drug or alcohol abuse, gambling and even compulsive use of computers and social media.

“The general machinery by which we build both kinds of habits are the same, whether it’s a habit for overeating or a habit for getting to work without really thinking about the details,” says Dr. Russell Poldrack, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas at Austin. Both types of habits are the same types of brain mechanisms.

“But there’s one important difference,” Poldrack says. And this difference makes the pleasure-based habits so much harder to break. Enjoyable behaviors can prompt your brain to release a chemical called dopamineA brain chemical that regulates movement, emotion, motivation and pleasure..

“If you do something over and over, and dopamine is there when you’re doing it, that strengthens the habit even more. When you’re not doing those things, dopamine creates the craving to do it again,” Poldrack says.

“This explains why some people crave drugs, even if the drug no longer makes them feel particularly good once they take it.”

In a sense, then, parts of our brains are working against us when we try to overcome bad habits. “These routines can become hardwired in our brains,” Volkow says. And the brain’s reward centers keep us craving the things we’re trying so hard to resist.

The good news is, humans are not simply creatures of habit. We have many more brain regions to help us do what’s best for our health.

“Humans are much better than any other animal at changing and orienting our behavior toward long-term goals, or long-term benefits,” says Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University. His studies on decision-making and willpower have led him to conclude that “self-control is a muscle. Once you’ve exerted some self-control, a muscle it gets tired.”

After successfully resisting a temptation, Baumeister’s research shows, willpower can be temporarily drained, which can make it harder to stand firm the next time around. In recent years, though, he’s found evidence that regularly practicing different types of self-control—such as sitting up straight or keeping a food diary—can strengthen your resolve.

“We’ve found that you can improve your self-control by doing exercises over time,” Baumeister says. “Any regular act of self-control will gradually exercise your ‘muscle’ and make you stronger.”

Volkow notes that there’s no single effective way to break bad habits. “It’s not one size fits all,” she says.

One approach is to focus on becoming more aware of your unhealthy habits. Then develop strategies to counteract them. For example, habits can be linked in our minds to certain places and activities.

You could develop a plan, say, to avoid walking down the hall where there’s a candy machine. Resolve to avoid going places where you’ve usually smoked.

Stay away from friends and situations linked to problem drinking or drug use.

Another helpful technique is to visualize yourself in a tempting situation. “Mentally practice the good behavior over the bad,” Poldrack says. “If you’ll be at a party and want to eat vegetables instead of fattening foods, then mentally visualize yourself doing that. It’s not guaranteed to work, but it certainly can help.”

One way to kick bad habits is to actively replace unhealthy routines with new, healthy ones. Some people find they can replace a bad habit, even drug addiction, with another behavior, exercising. “It doesn’t work for everyone,” Volkow says.

“But certain groups of patients who have a history of serious addictions can engage in certain behaviors that are ritualistic and in a way compulsive—such as marathon running—and it helps them stay away from drugs.

These alternative behaviors can counteract the urges to repeat a behavior to take a drug.”

Another thing that makes habits especially hard to break is that replacing a first-learned habit with a new one doesn’t erase the original behavior. Rather, both remain in your brain. But you can take steps to strengthen the new one and suppress the original one.

In ongoing research, Poldrack and his colleagues are using brain imaging to study the differences between first-learned and later-learned behaviors. “We’d to find a way to train people to improve their ability to maintain these behavioral changes,” Poldrack says.

Some NIH-funded research is exploring whether certain medications can help to disrupt hard-wired automatic behaviors in the brain and make it easier to form new memories and behaviors. Other scientific teams are searching for genes that might allow some people to easily form and others to readily suppress habits.

Bad habits may be hard to change, but it can be done. Enlist the help of friends, co-workers and family for some extra support.


3 Steps For Breaking Bad Habits

Neuroscience reveals 3 steps to break bad habits for good

I would to share with you 3 steps for breaking bad habits. Everyone has bad habits that are hard to kick, whether that's smoking, eating fast food, or consuming alcohol. Bad habits are a sure way to slow you down and decrease your productivity. When you allow a bad habit to take over your life, you inhibit your opportunities for success.

In his popular book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg cites a study from Duke University that shows that 40-45% of our daily actions are actually habits. Your daily actions make you who you are and determine how you choose to move throughout your life. What do your habits say about you?

One study found that people who exercise a high degree of self-control tend to be much happier than those who don’t, both in the moment and in the long run (Bradberry, 2017). If you want to be successful in life, you need to break bad habits. Doing so requires a large amount of willpower and self-control, but it all starts with developing a mastery mindset.

Are you ready to learn how to create new habits that will help you master your day? CLICK HERE to purchase my Morning Ritual Mastery Course!

Here are 3 steps for breaking bad habits:

1. Commit to Change

If you want to break any bad habit, you need to first commit to making a change. By nature, we are creatures of habit. Change makes us feel uncomfortable. Leo Babauta, author of the blog, Zen Habits, is a fan of tackling one habit change at a time. Be kind to yourself. It takes a lot of energy and willpower to unlearn a behaviour.

The more that you engage in a bad habit – smoking, gossiping, or surfing the web – the harder it is to change that habit. When you decide which bad habits you want to change, make sure that your goals for doing so are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bounded).

2. Discover The Cause

Once you have committed to changing your bad habits, you need to discover what it is that causes you to take part in them in the first place. Have you ever made a decision to break a bad habit and then you fail? The resulting emotion is often guilt, which is a horrible feeling. Next time this happens, ask yourself, “What rewards am I receiving from engaging in these bad habits?”

This will require you to dig deep, go inward, and do some soul-searching. Change will not be possible until you do so. Once you know what cue triggers your bad habits, and what reward you are receiving from them, you then need to build new habits, in order to replace the bad ones.

3. Create A Ritual

The best way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a good one, which is where the power of a morning ritual comes into play. The most successful people in the world have morning rituals. The mornings set the tone for how the rest of your day will unfold. When I do my morning ritual, I feel unstoppable.

Imagine how great it would feel if you could be more productive, have more energy, and be happier on a daily basis. When you take the time to honour yourself every morning, your entire day will transform. If you are consistent with your morning ritual, you will eventually break your bad habits.

John C. Maxwell said it best – “You will never change your life until you change something that you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” Are you ready to change your bad habits, and replace them with healthy, empowering ones? There is no better time than today to get started!

Are you ready to learn how to create new habits that will help you master your day? CLICK HERE to purchase my Morning Ritual Mastery Course!

(2 votes, average: 5.00 5)


5 Neuroscience Tips to Break a Bad Habit

Neuroscience reveals 3 steps to break bad habits for good

In fact, research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology reveals that approximately 54 percent of people who pledge to break a bad habit fail to stick with the transformation beyond six months, and the average person make the same resolution 10 times with no success.

It’s no secret that breaking a bad habit is tough. In reality, it requires eliminating automatic thoughts that our brain has been wired to carry out. But despite the persistence of these habits, it’s possible to get rid of them once and for all  — and these neuroscience tips lay out just how to tackle them.

1.  Become hyper-aware of your habit

It may sound tedious, but keep track of how much you’re actually biting your nails, smoking, or whatever your habit may be. Either in a little notebook or in the notes of your phone, write down every time you indulge in the habit.

You may be shocked to find that your habit is even worse than you previously thought. But it’s a necessary first step to fully understand the behavior.

Plus, it may even help you cut down on the habit by wanting to avoid racking up your daily quota.

2.  Don’t focus on what you won’t do

Instead, set small goals for yourself and focus on what you will do. Focusing on avoiding a bad habit will simply keep the thought of it in your head.

3.  Set reasonable goals

If you’ve been a smoker or a nail biter for years, don’t expect to kick the habit in a month. Long-term goals take time, and you have to start off slow with reasonable goals. If you try to wipe the problem out in the blink of an eye, you’ll simply tire yourself out with unrealistic expectations and lose the willpower to keep up with your new goal. Baby steps.

4.  Replace your behavior with something else

Carry a pack of gum with you so that every time you think about biting your nails, you can pop a piece in your mouth. If you regularly over-eat, stock up on smaller plates.

If you’re a chronic knuckle-cracker, twiddle your thumbs, or clasp your hands until the urge goes away. Finding a replacement habit is far more effective than simply trying to nix a bad habit altogether.

Plus, you may even replace a bad habit with a healthy one.

5.  Establish a healthy environment

Putting yourself in an environment that distances you from your bad habit is critical. If you’re a stress-eater, keep junk food your cabinets. If you’re trying to quit smoking cigarettes, walk away when a friend lights one up.

It’s straightforward — our environments affect our cravings, but we have control of the environments we establish for ourselves or those we choose to put ourselves in.

Art Markman, author of Smart Change: Five Tools to Create Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others, told the Huffington Post, “It seems simple, but it's incredibly important. The more you manage your environment, the more ly you are to succeed. It's not cheating.”

Breaking a bad habit isn’t child’s play by any means. It takes time, dedication, and willpower. But if you’re willing to put in the work, perhaps you can defy those bad habit failure statistics. When the future bad-habit-free you looks back on the progress you’ve made, it will all be worth it.


The 6 Keys to Breaking Bad Habits

Neuroscience reveals 3 steps to break bad habits for good

Think back to a habit you’ve tried to break. Whether it’s biting your nails, late night snacking, overspending, or constantly checking your phone, harmful habits are easy to form and much harder to shake.

If you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit yourself, you know what we’re talking about. It doesn’t just take 21 days (yes, that’s a myth) – ending a habit requires willpower, strategy, and a good understanding of how habits form.

So, how can we break bad habits? And what is it about habits that makes them so difficult to shake, no matter how motivated you are?

While it may not seem it, habits are actually automatic behaviors, rather than well-considered decisions. Once they’re ingrained in your brain, they don’t become much of a conscious choice.

Habits exist in the first place because they’re a shortcut for our brains. Our minds are evolutionarily designed to find short routes for everything, so we can conserve energy and focus on what’s important. Once our brain notices that we perform a specific behavior over and over, a habit forms, allowing our minds to go on autopilot so our bodies can take over.

So when going through your morning routine, commuting to work, or scrolling on Instagram right before bed, you probably don’t have to think very much. That’s because you’ve done this routine so many times that it’s ingrained.

Although they are huge time and energy saver, habits can also negatively impact our productivity, wellbeing, or happiness. But here’s the good news – since our habits are crafted by our minds, the key to breaking bad habits is simply knowing the right way to communicate with our brains. It’s that easy.

Here are 6 science-backed tricks to hack your brain, and finally shake your bad habits.

1. Find the core of your bad habit

Figuring out why your habit exists in the first place is much less intimidating than it sounds. Turns out, there’s a pretty clear-cut formula behind almost any habit. Every habit has three basic parts, according to Charles Duhigg:

1. The cue – the feeling, time, or location that triggers your habit

2. The routine – the habit itself

3. The reward – the craving the habit satisfies

Figuring out these components is the first step to hijacking your habit. Here’s how: pay close attention the next few times your routine (read: habit) happens, and try to notice the cue and reward that prompted it. For best results, write down the cue, routine, and reward each time.

Let’s say you’re trying to break your habit of scrolling through your phone before bed, because you’re not getting as much sleep as you’d . Ask yourself, ‘what triggers this routine?’ And, ‘what craving is my body trying to satisfy?’

The next time it happens, take notice: if you shut your lamp before right before bed (cue), picked up your phone and scrolled through your feed (routine), and felt socially connected (reward), write it all down.

After a few instances, see if there’s a pattern in your behavior.

If you always scroll through your phone right after you shut your lamp (cue), or notice this habit is bringing you a feeling of social satisfaction (reward), you’re onto something.

Diagnosing your bad habits will not only help you find effective alternatives (more on that later), but it’ll also help you become more aware of your habit. This awareness will transform your habit from an automatic, subconscious routine to a deliberate, conscious behavior.

2. Change your environment

Figuring out the ‘cue’ that triggers your habit is the first step to breaking it. Why? It’s what sets off your habit in the first place – without the cue, you won’t be prompted to go through the routine in the first place.

So the trick here is to eliminate the cue altogether. The best way to do this is to take advantage of a totally new environment, according to our Chief Behavioral Officer Dan Ariely:

“If you move to a new place, you won’t have all of these environmental cues. If you take advantage of a time when you go on vacation, or when you do something else for a few weeks, those are really good times to break a habit.”

The proof is in the pudding: researchers found that students who transferred to a new university were more ly to change their habits than students in the control group, because they weren’t exposed to familiar cues.

So looks the best time to try to break a habit is during a work trip or vacation. Since your brain won’t be exposed to its typical triggers, you won’t have to fight your instincts while trying to break the habit. And once you return to your familiar environment, it’ll be much easier to continue your streak.

If you aren’t going on vacay anytime soon, another hack here is to eliminate that cue altogether in the environment you’re currently in. Going back to our phone example, let’s say you’ve figured out that shutting your lamp is the cue that prompts you to pick up your phone.

Try to experiment, and see if you still crave this habit if you don’t turn your on lamp in the first place. Try to use your phone light, or bedroom light, instead. It just might be the key to breaking that habit once and for all.

3. Reframe your goal as positive

Now that we’ve tackled the ‘cue,’ it’s time to focus on another key component of habits: the ‘routine.’ As a refresher, the ‘routine’ is the behavior triggered by the ‘cue’ – it’s the habit you’re trying to shake.

Usually, when we decide to break a habit, we put our goals in a negative frame. We say we’re going to stop hitting snooze, quit biting our nails, or put an end to late-night snacking.

However, our brains’ habit system doesn’t comprehend negative goals (I will stop eating junk food) – instead, they learn by working towards positive goals (I will start eating healthy). In fact, research shows we’re more ly to achieve a goal that involves reaching a desired outcome (eating healthy) than eliminating an undesired outcome (eating junk food).

Why? Psychologists say pursuing negative goals is associated with feelings of incompetence, decreased self-esteem, and less satisfaction with progress – and these emotions deter us from taking action. On the other hand, it’s much easier to become excited by the thought of reaching a positive goal, which will increase our chances of achieving it.

So rather than setting out to stop scrolling on your phone before bed, make it your goal to go to get better sleep. Or, rather than aiming to stop splurging on weekend brunches, set out to cook breakfast at home more often.

4. Find a replacement you’ll love

Here’s another reason our brains don’t grasp negative goals: it’s really hard for our minds and bodies to stop a habit altogether. Once a habit forms, it becomes instinctual for us to complete the routine when our brains recognize the cue and crave the reward. So telling yourself you’ll stop overspending at restaurants just won’t cut it.

Rather than trying to eliminate the habit – which almost never works – the trick is to give your brain a new routine that will replace the old one. How? Keep the old cue, and deliver the reward, but insert a new routine.

Going back to the phone before bed example, you’ve already figured out that once you turn off your lamp (cue), you crave social interaction (reward), and that this habit is getting in the way of getting more sleep at night.

To replace this habit, you should think of another activity you can do when you get in bed that’ll satisfy your craving for social connection. Try calling a friend for a few minutes, or FaceTiming your mom before bed (bonus: it’ll make her happy!). Experiment with a few routines to see what works best for you.

Once you find your new routine, make an effort to do it each time the cue and craving hit. Since this new habit will fulfill your brain’s craving, you won’t feel much physical or psychological pushback. And the more you do it, the easier it will be for your brain to engrain this new habit – pretty soon, it’ll become second nature.

5. Tell your friends about your progress

There’s something underratedly powerful about sharing your goals with others. According to a study by the ASTC, if you tell a friend you’re working towards a goal, you have a 65% chance of completing it. If you set up a meeting or a coffee date with a friend to discuss your goal, your odds of completing it will rise to 95%. Now that’s powerful.

Why is sharing with friends so effective? Once we make a public commitment to others, we tend to feel obligated to follow through with it, due to our fundamental drive to feel that we’re consistent in our behaviors and beliefs. This tendency is called cognitive dissonance, in psychology speak.

Sharing with friends also leads to positive reinforcement. Let’s say you tell a friend you’re committed to start a habit of budgeting to spend smarter.

When you tell him that you cooked brunch at home, rather than eating out, he’ll probably respond with praise.

When this happens, your brain will internalize the pleasure from hearing “great job” or “I’m proud of you,” which will motivate you even further to continue spending smarter.

So when you set out to break a bad habit, text a friend – ideally one who’s also trying to break a bad habit. If you commit to telling each other about your victories and setbacks, you’ll have a much higher chance of changing your bad habit once and for all.

6. Be kind to yourself

When you set out to break a bad habit, chances are your efforts aren’t going to be perfect. It’s all too easy to scroll through your feed after a long day at work, despite your best efforts to go to bed early. Or spend that extra $30 on a brunch out, even though you’re trying to cook breakfast at home.

When (not if) this happens, the best thing you can do is be kind to yourself. If you beat yourself up, you may begin to associate your goal with negative emotions, which may interfere with your progress and motivation.

Here’s the good news: if you mess up every now and then, it won’t materially affect the habit formation process in your brain, according to a study conducted by Dr. Phillippa Lally. If you cave, simply jump back on the wagon, and the habit-forming will continue as if it was never interrupted.

In fact, making a mistake is actually a productive step in your quest to breaking your habit – it’ll teach you a new lesson about your habit that can inform your strategy.

If you’re trying to stick to a healthy diet but cave during a business dinner or times of high-stress, you’ll learn to prepare yourself for next time.

Chances are, this experience will lead to greater success in beating your negative habit once and for all.

Time to break your habits!

We all have that habit we’re trying to shake, but setting out to stop just won’t cut it.

Our brains are the most powerful organ in our body – and once a habit is engrained, the only way to break it is to communicate with our brains in a way they’ll understand.

With these hacks and tools, you’ll stop replace your habit in no time, and who knows – maybe this replacement will improve your life in a way that surprises you.


The Best Ways to Break Bad Habits

Neuroscience reveals 3 steps to break bad habits for good
Image: Shutterstock

As much as some people hate to admit it, humans are not perfect. We know what we should do— exercise, eat well and get plenty of sleep—but don’t always measure up.

And sometimes what starts as an occasional oversight, slip-up or coping mechanism becomes a full-fledged bad habit.

The good news is that it’s entirely possible to kick your bad habits, and we’re here to help you with that.

Identify the behavior you want to change

Thinking that you have “bad habits” isn’t enough: you need to know exactly what behaviors you’d to change. Over at Psychology Today, Robert Taibbi, a licensed clinical social worker writes:

“You need to prime the habit-breaking process by thinking in terms of specific, doable behaviors — not dumping your shoes in the living room but putting them in your closet; not eating in front of the TV but at the dining room table; going for a half-hour run five days a week; sending your boyfriend a complimentary text once a day, rather than sending him nothing or negative ones. Drill down on the concrete.”

In other words, go in knowing precisely what it is you are going to work on.

Fine yourself for each offense

Make a bad habit a little more painful and you might ditch it for good.

Money is a great motivator, so you can use the “swear jar” method or pay your friends $1 each time they catch you doing that thing you want to stop doing.

It works the other way too: Reward yourself for beating your habit every day. The app 21Habit rewards or penalizes you a dollar a day for 21 days of committing to a habit.

Understand what triggers your bad habits

Understanding how we make decisions is the key to conquering all kinds of bad habits, including those related to money. Often, we repeat bad habits without even realize we’re doing them. There are five cues that usually contribute to every bad habit, though, and being aware of them can help us learn what’s behind those behaviors.

Bad money habits can be hard to break. You decide to put something on a credit card once, and…

Read more

Go slowly and make tiny changes

Forming better new habits takes time and effort, but breaking established bad habits may be even harder.

So be patient with yourself and instead of making dramatic adjustments, try focusing on one habit and the smallest steps you can take to “trick your inner caveman.

” With food and dieting, for example, small changes reducing one pack of sugar or switch cream in your coffee to low-fat milk can make a big difference in the long run and may inspire additional small but meaningful changes.

It's that time of year when we all start to make “New Year's resolutions”, which is a fancy way of…

Read more

Spend a month thinking about your habit before taking action

You might be itching to get rid of that habit right now, but as mentioned above, it takes time. Before you start trying to change a habit, consider thinking about it thoroughly for a month first, listing every reason you want to stop, recording every time you catch yourself doing it, and so on. You could be better prepared to conquer the habit after this preparation.

Remind your future self to avoid bad habits

Even with the best intentions, we fall into bad habits when our willpower fades. You might promise only to have two drinks when going out with friends, for example, but forget that promise completely as soon as you step into the bar. Try setting up reminders in your calendar for yourself for your weakest moments. Future, less-hungover self will thank you.

Find a better reason to quit

Yes, we know that we shouldn’t smoke or eat fast food every day, but that awareness itself may not be enough for us to kick the habit. As Elliot Berkman, Ph.D.

, director of the University of Oregon’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab tells Time: “Even if you replace a ‘bad’ habit with a better one, sometimes the original vice will have a stronger biological ‘reward’ than its substitute.

” So for example, in addition to thinking you should quit smoking because it will be better for your health, you can better motivate yourself to do it because it may help you become more active and enjoy hiking in a way you weren’t able to before.

Change your environment

Over time, if you do the same behaviors in the same place, your surroundings can become a trigger—sometimes too subtle to notice. If you go on smoke breaks in your office’s parking lot, the parking lot itself can become a cue to smoke. Switch up your surrounds in even the smallest way.

The 20-Second Rule can help too: Make bad habits take 20 seconds longer to start. For example, move junk food to the back of the pantry to its less accessible, and plant some healthy snacks up front. In this scenario, you’re relying on your laziness to settle for whatever is closest to your mouth.

We know that different types of triggers can cause us to fall back into certain habits, but…

Read more

Coach yourself bad habits

Lifehacker alum Adam Dachis used a webcam to break his bad habits, recording why he wanted to break them every day and effectively coaching himself to stop nail biting and doing other bad habits.

Now, seven years after his original article, most people can easily take videos with their phones, making this strategy even more accessible than before.

It might seem a little strange at first, but it could work for you too.

Be kind and patient with yourself

As we’ve already established, changing bad habits doesn’t happen overnight, so try not to get upset or frustrated with yourself when the process takes time.

As Taibbi points out, it takes a while for your brain to form new connections and for a new pattern of behavior to kick in. Don’t chastise yourself because it doesn’t happen instantly.

Also, don’t beat yourself up when you have an inevitable slip-up, and do not use it as a rationale for quitting, Taibbi adds.

Do a review when you have a bad habit relapse

Chances are you’re going to have bad days. Setbacks are normal and we should expect them. Have a plan to get back on track and use the relapse as a way to understand what happened and how you can avoid it next time.

If you're trying to build a new habit, chances are you're going to break it. More than once. And…

Read more

Create an “If-Then” plan

Habits are loops that we repeat automatically. A cue triggers our routine, we get the reward from it, and then repeat. An If-Then plan can help you disrupt this cue-routine-reward system and replace bad habits with good ones. Just remember to keep your plan as simple as possible. This flowchart can help you reboot your habit and create the If-Then plan.

We all have one or two habits that we'd to break—or habits we'd to start—but can't…

Read more

Train yourself to think differently about your bad habits

Even if we hate a habit we’re doing, smoking or biting our nails, we tend to continue doing them because they provide us with some sort of satisfaction or psychological reward. Catch yourself thinking any positive thoughts or feelings about your bad habits and reframe them to remind you of the negative aspects. In other words, in this case it’s good to think a hater.


Neuroscience reveals 3 steps to break bad habits for good

Neuroscience reveals 3 steps to break bad habits for good

Bad habits. We all have them, and they all suck.

If we could, we would amputate them from our bodies, toss them into a dumpster, and hope we never have to see them again.


Because bad habits can ruin our lives.

They eat up our time, take us away from our more important goals and responsibilities, and can damage other areas of our lives.

Whether it’s playing video games, napping, or alcoholism, bad habits can range from the mundane to the fatal.

What many people don’t understand is that for some people, it isn’t just a case of “willing” the bad habits away.

Some don’t have the willpower required to kill a bad habit that has afflicted them for several years; others don’t know how to use their willpower that way.

There’s a truth about the mind that many of us must come to grips with: having bad habits doesn’t make you a weak or lazy person.

In a book called “The Body Keeps the Score”, one MIT scientist argues that there is no “single Self”.

He claims instead that there is “a society of different minds” inside your head, and to achieve the best possible results, you must create an environment where they are all living in harmony.

Much the Disney movie Inside Out (which is real research), the mind exists as a party of different selves with different needs, goals, and ambitions in mind.

Michael Gazzaniga, who conducted pioneering split-brain research, concluded that the mind is composed of semiautonomous functioning modules, each of which has a special role.

Imagining your mind as a singular mind can be detrimental to your growth.

Instead, embrace the others living with you. As detailed by the Internal Family Systems Skills Training Manual, these include:

  • Exiles: The exiles are the voices in your head that hate themselves. The ones who believe that they are failures, that nobody loves them, that they will never accomplish anything. They are the insecure inner children within you that need to be coaxed and satisfied with gentleness and kindness.
  • Managers: The managers are the parents in your head. The naggers, the pushers, the doers. These are the voices that never feel that you have done enough, and that drive you to live up to higher standards and push yourself to greater heights.
  • Firefighters: Firefighters and Managers want the same things—accomplishing goals and becoming a better person—but they get to these goals with different means. Firefighters are emotional and immediate, and do everything they can to solve problems immediately. They have the best intentions in mind, but they don’t make the best decisions.

Ending your bad habits means getting all three of these voices to agree with each other, work together, and calm down.

Your Exiles must feel secure, your Managers must be convinced that you are on the right track, and your Firefighters must remain calm.

So how do you do this?

1) Calm Down

Sit, breathe, and relax. Chill out and accept your mind for what it is.

Recapture your “you”, and make sure you are in the driver’s seat.

By calming down in any situation, this takes the Managers and the Firefighters off the wheel.

When you want to handle your bad habit, imagine that you have your Manager helping you to deal with it. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you being pushed too hard?
  • Are you procrastinating too much?
  • Are you being nagged too death?
  • Are you not trusting others?

Find the answer to these questions, and imagine them as a whole person that you can argue with and dismiss.

(If you’re looking for specific actions you can take to stay in the moment and live a happier life, check out our best-selling eBook on how to use Buddhist teachings for a mindful and happy life here.)

2) Talk To Your Voices

This may sound weird, but it’s necessary: talk to the other voices inside of yourself.

Research has found that speaking to yourself in the second-person strengthens the message that you are trying to teach yourself, and is more ly to result in successful behavioral changes.

Why is this important?

Because you need to kill your ego if you want to kill your bad habits.

Your habits are attached to your ego, and by reducing your ego and turning your self into just one of many, it is easier to diminish the importance of your bad habits and see them as deadweight you don’t need in your life.

When you talk to these voices, ask them certain questions, :

  • How do you contribute to my growth?
  • What do you do to protect me?
  • What would you be if you weren’t protecting me?

These are tough questions that will take a lot of reflection to truly find the answers. But once you do, you will see yourself in a way you have never seen yourself before.

3) Confront the Exile

And finally, you must confront the Exile.

You will ask your questions to the Managers and the Firefighters, but the Exiles will be waiting in the corner, searching for your approval.

It’s your job to grant it that approval, and that means coming to terms with your weaknesses, flaws, and insecurities.

Approach your Exile and tell them that you accept them for whom they are, because you are secure enough to know that you will work towards fixing your flaws.

Be gentle to yourself, and to your Exiles. Don’t let your Exiles get worked up and worried, only to have your Firefighters ruin the entire situation.

And finally—don’t convince yourself these techniques are too ridiculous to work.

Embrace the other voices in your head, and find peace with them instead of running from them.

Fixing your life and cutting out bad habits isn’t simply about maximizing your willpower, discipline, and self-control.

It’s about understanding yourself, and getting to a point where you know that you no longer need those bad habits.

(If you’re looking for a structured, easy-to-follow framework to help you find your purpose in life and achieve your goals, check our eBook on how to be your own life coach here).

Learn how to reduce stress, cultivate healthy relationships, handle people you don't and find your place in the world.

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription.


3 Steps For Eliminating Your Bad Habits

Neuroscience reveals 3 steps to break bad habits for good

Late night channel surfing, procrastination, and a mid-afternoon candy bar. While alone these things are just bad choices, they could quickly become bad habits under the right conditions, says Wendy Wood, provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California (USC).

“About 40% of our behaviors are repeated almost daily, and usually in the same context,” she says. “We tend to eat at the same times and places, exercise and go to work at the same times and places. This is a huge amount of repetition.”

Good or bad, habits bring consistency to our lives. A type of associative learning, they’re formed when we repeat activities under the same contexts; essentially, we react to recurring cues.

“Once habits have formed, just perceiving the cues will automatically bring the response to mind,” says Wood. “For example, when you walk into your kitchen first thing in the morning, you are ly to think about making coffee. The cues of kitchen and early morning bring making coffee-making to mind, and people often carry out the thought in mind.”

While we rarely recognize our good habits because they’re consistent with our goals, our bad habits are easy to identify because they cause us to struggle even after we’ve made decisions not to do them.

“So if you decide that your habit of eating doughnuts at the vending machine is bad for your health, you are essentially of two minds: your habit mind thinks of buying doughnuts every time you walk by the machine at work, while your intentional mind is resolved to not eat doughnuts any more,” says Wood.

Unfortunately you can’t change a bad habit overnight, but there are three simple steps you can take to pave the way, says Wood:


People sometimes find it easier to stop smoking while on vacation or to start a new exercise routine when they move to a new home, says Wood: “This is because the old cues that kept them repeating unwanted behaviors are no longer present,” she says.

If you’re unable to change your scenery, change your routine. Avoid the workplace vending machine that poses a problem, for example, or leave your money behind so you can’t succumb to temptation.

Step 2: Identify a Desired Replacement Activity

Derailing bad habits makes room for incorporating new, good intentions, says Wood. Instead of buying junk food from the vending machine, for example, you might decide to incorporate healthy snacks and keep items such as apples and nuts in your desk.

“The latest research on self-control shows that people who are really good at meeting their goals don’t engage in white-knuckle struggles with themselves,” she says. “They don’t stress over being healthy and productive. Instead, they have structured their lives so that desired behaviors are automatic and habitual.”

Keep the new behavior going by repeating it in stable contexts so that when you’re in those situations, the habit automatically comes to mind, says Wood.

If the 3 p.m. slump triggers your craving for sweets, save your good snack and have it at that time. Reversing the order of the new behavior and what triggers your bad habit will decrease the lihood of forming the new good habit because context cues have a strong impact on our behavior, says Wood.

In a study at USC, Wood and her team fed people at a cinema stale and fresh popcorn: “Everyone hated the stale popcorn, and were able to tell us how much they hated it, but people who had habits to eat popcorn at the movies ate it anyway,” she says. “This is an indication of how much habits influence our lives—we can say we hate a food but still eat it habitually.”

Keep It Going.
The key to successfully eliminating bad habits is repeating the three steps. In his 1960 classic self-help book Psycho Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Life, Dr.

Maxwell Maltz suggested that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but Wood says it’s not that cut and dry.

She sites a recent study by University College London research psychologist Pippa Lally, who found that some behaviors take 18 days to become habits while others take more than 200; the average was 66 days.

That means you should continue your replacement activity for the long haul, making a commitment and plans to stick to it. “It would be great if there was a simple formula to establish a habit,” says Wood. “How long it takes depends on many things, including as how complicated the behavior is.”

“,”author”:”Stephanie Vozza”,”date_published”:”2014-09-11T05:15:00.000Z”,”lead_image_url”:”,f_auto,q_auto,fl_lossy/fc/3035494-poster-p-1-3-steps-for-eliminating-your-bad-habits.jpg”,”dek”:null,”next_page_url”:null,”url”:””,”domain”:””,”excerpt”:”Derail, replace, incorporate: Habits are based in cues. Here’s how to change them for the better.”,”word_count”:744,”direction”:”ltr”,”total_pages”:1,”rendered_pages”:1}