A couple of weeks ago we were really proud to support Cycling to Work day — a lot of people participated, and it was really exciting to see how many people were taking up the good habit of cycling to work! This got us thinking about habits in general, especially bad habits.
If you’re like most people, you have that one thing that seems to make it onto your New Years resolution list over and over again, that bad habit you just can’t seem to break, no matter how hard you try. If that sounds (maybe uncomfortably) familiar, you’re certainly not alone; there’s a whole field of study on the subject of why humans are so bad at breaking bad habits.
We’ve gathered together some of the best tips for breaking a bad habit from behavioural science experts, including:
Don’t try to break a habit with willpower
This is the classic mistake that everyone makes when trying to break a habit — assuming that they can do it with willpower alone. While it’s possible to break a habit using just your willpower, it’s really unlikely that you’ll stick with it long enough to do so, simply because of the way that humans are wired.
Studies show that willpower is a finite resource. You’ve only got so much of it, and it gets depleted as you use it. That’s why the day that you go off your diet, pick up the cigarettes, or skip the gym is usually the day when you’ve got to make a lot of choices, things get crazy at work, or you have to deal with something out of the ordinary — your willpower is so depleted by the other things that you don’t have enough left over to enforce your habit. Having limited willpower can make it seem impossible to break a habit, but once you understand the principle, you can use it to your advantage by…
Clearing the path
When you understand how willpower works, you can create the conditions that will allow you to put as much willpower towards breaking the bad habit as possible. So if you want to break the bad habit of not exercising, then lay out your workout clothes in advance and don’t schedule workouts in the morning if you’re a night owl. The less willpower you have to expend on other things, even seemingly trivial decisions like taking your workout clothes out of the wardrobe, the more you’ll have to focus on breaking your habit.
Replace the bad habit with a new one
Since a bad habit is just that — a habit — you can often kick it by replacing it with another habit. The key sequence to remember is trigger-action-result. This is how habits form: you have a trigger, which prompts you to take an action, which leads to an enjoyable result. For instance, your trigger for brushing your teeth might be waking up, the action is brushing your teeth, and the pleasant result is the good taste in your mouth. Try to think of a good habit you can use to replace your bad one so you’ll be less likely to fall back into your old ways.
Don’t beat yourself up when you fall, but don’t throw your work away either
It’s essentially impossible to break a habit and never fail somewhere along the way. Beating yourself up about it’s counterproductive, and actually makes you more likely to indulge in bad habits. But equally, don’t take one failure as a signal to throw all your previous work away. A slip is just that — a slip. Accept it, and move on from it like it never happened.
What are your best strategies for breaking bad habits? Tell us below in the comments!