What is a habit? The definition is “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”
I used to bite my nails as a child, and still do when I am stressed or nervous. I would call that a ‘bad’ habit as it is not productive or making my hands look particularly nice. I am also a perfectionist which would initially be associated with a ‘good’ habit, however it causes me a lot of grief in my life. The word ‘habit’ is also associated with less than healthy actions such as smoking, drinking or taking drugs.
A habit is learnt over time and often caused by stress or anxiety. This learnt action becomes the new go-to act when we start to feel our stress levels rising. The problem is, we then start doing these actions even when we’re not stressed they ingrain into our everyday life, becoming normal.
Getting out of this routine of using unhealthy coping mechanisms can be very tough once it has become a part of your life. However it is possible.
To understand how to change a bad habit, you have to understand why your habits have been formed in the first place. You developed your habit over time, so you can certainly unlearn your habit again. But how do you do this?
THINK ABOUT TRIGGERS
Understanding and identifying what triggers our bad habits is the first step to changing them. It will usually be associated with stress, whether that be a person, a situation or an event. It is completely subjective from person to person and reasons behind coping mechanisms will be different for everyone. The same way that everyone will develop their own coping mechanisms.
Write down and visualise firstly what your bad habits are, secondly what your triggers could be, and thirdly what you want to change.
EXPERIENCE & REWARD
When you actively take part in your bad habit, what is it you experience that makes you feel better? Do you feel more relaxed? Do you feel like you’ve performed a ritual? What are you getting out of the reward and how long does that feeling last? This could be a tricky thing to pinpoint as sometimes these actions are performed at such a subconscious level you may not even realise you are doing it half the time.
The ‘reward’ we gain is often short lived and therefore leads to us performing our habits over and over again.
REPLACING YOUR BAD HABIT WITH A GOOD HABIT
Good habits are labelled as those which have a positive effect on mind and body, and increase your happiness in life. Some examples of good habits would be:
- Regular exercise
- Getting outside
- Eating nutritious food
- Being creative
These actions all have benefits for both body and mind, so they are productive and the cycle will be different and healthier as you are not chasing a synthetic or temporary result.
Think about what you have labelled above as your ‘bad’ habits. Are there actions you could take to counteract these which still give you rewards? For example, if you are a smoker as a result of a stressful job, why not try leaving your desk when feeling overwhelmed and instead of puffing on a cigarette try walking around the office block a couple of times.
The most successful way to change habits is to firstly realise what is going on, come to terms why it is happening, and see what you can do yourself to counteract the bad habit by replacing it with a more healthy one.
It won’t happen overnight but you will feel a sense of achievement and pride once you start seeing your life changing for the better.