4 tips for breaking a bad habit
In her song, “Shake It Off,” was Taylor Swift referencing her haters or a bad habit she couldn’t seem to shake?
Unfortunately for most, bad habits are easy to develop and much harder to quit. Some common bad habits include smoking, nail biting, excessive phone checking, swearing, overeating, knuckle cracking and the list goes on.
So why are your habits so hard to stop?
“The feel of the behavior becomes attractive,” says Dr. Brent Sylvester, a psychologist with Advocate Medical Group at Advocate BroMenn Outpatient Center in Bloomington, Ill. “Most habits have some sort of immediate reward value, which is probably the primary reason they are so difficult to break.”
Dr. Sylvester offers these four tips to break a bad habit:
- Prepare mentally – The first step in the process of breaking any habit is to acknowledge and address it. “Changing habits won’t happen unless people feel motivated and believe they can be successful. People are more likely to believe in their success if they learn what they can about ways to break the habit,” says Dr. Sylvester.
- Talk it out and enlist support – Tell others about your goals. “Talking with others is helpful because when we make our intentions public, there is more commitment to follow through,” says Dr. Sylvester. “Their checking in on your progress will help to motivate change.”
- Avoid temptations and replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones – The goal is to distract yourself from the fact that you can’t indulge in your bad habits. “Sometimes replacing a bad habit with something that is less harmful or problematic while still giving the soothing effect can be helpful,” explains Dr. Sylvester, who once had a patient who replaced his tobacco tin with coffee beans, enabling him to replace the harmful carcinogenic exposure while having some satisfaction from the taste and feel.
- Reward yourself– Set up goals for yourself and come up with a reward system. Doing something you enjoy can provide a positive mental booster. According to Dr. Sylvester, when there is a relapse, it is best to treat it as a minor setback. “Avoid the tendency to think of it as starting all over again,” he says. “Any day you are successful with your change is a day closer to kicking the habit, despite the occasional setback here or there.”
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