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How to Break a Habit (and Make It Stick)

Everyone has habits, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. Some are pretty useful — maybe you lay out your clothes the night before or automatically turn off the lights when you leave a room.

But other habits might not be so beneficial.

Breaking unwanted habits can be difficult, especially if you’ve been engaging in them for a long time. But understanding how habits form in the first place can ease the process.

The making of a habit

There are a few theories on how habits develop. The idea of the 3 Rs is one of the main ones:

  • Reminder. This is a trigger, or cue, that could be a conscious behaviour, such as flushing the toilet, or a feeling.
  • Routine. This is the behaviour associated with the trigger. Flushing the toilet cues you to wash your hands while feeling horny triggers masturbation. Doing something over and over can make the behavior routine.
  • Reward. The reward associated with behaviour also helps make a habit stick. If you do something that causes enjoyment or relieves distress, the pleasurable release of dopamine in your brain can make you want to do it again.

I’m always trying to change and make habits, only it’ll stick for 2 days or so and then somehow, I go back to my old ways. Leaving notes up around the house is a good way of remembering, especially leaving them at the place where you need them, say the kitchen cupboard when making your breakfast, or the bathroom cabinet when flossing your teeth.

Of course, quite a few habits don’t actually produce any rewards and if you think about it, they may not even have a trigger. Somethings we do habitually just for the sake of it. Like swearing for instance. Sometimes we can swear in anger and that might make us feel a little better, like getting stuff off of your chest but in general, swearing can be something we just do and we don’t even think about it.

Another habit of the same kind of ilk is picking your nose. Some people have their fingers up their nostrils a lot, and they don’t even know that they can be seen. Either that or they just don’t care who sees it. But nose-picking, apart from removing a good bogey and maybe scratching the inside of a nostril has no point to it at all and because of this, it can be a difficult activity to stop. Just like swearing can be.

All habits, of course, can be dealt with and the way to do it is to start small. Don’t try and change a big thing all at once, take baby steps towards your goal. In the case of nose-picking, I’d suggest covering the tip of your finger in vinegar or anything that smells strong. That way when your finger nears the entrance to your nostril you’ll pull your head back and remember that there is something pungent on your finger which will lead you to remember why it’s there in the firsts place. And so to NOT place it up to your nostrils.

In the case of swearing, I’d advise you to make a swear box. Where you would put money in it each and every time you or anyone else swears. This can be a fantastic way to collect money especially if you make the denomination high once sworn, and even more so if you are with lots of people who just don’t give a shit about what they say.

I find that the hardest thing about changing a habit is making it stick. And unfortunately, this is where we have to be mindful of ourselves. I say unfortunately because when we are getting on with what we do in our days, it’s usually on auto-pilot where we just do and we don’t have to think about it. Having to check ourselves all the time can be a bit frustrating but there is a way around this where we can naturally follow the flow of our habits.

And this is to remain in the moment. Stay with yourself, keeping track of your thoughts and movements. If you practice this it’ll become a part of you and then you won’t have to think about it.

It’s call Mindfulness and most of us act in a Mindless way, without even noticing. All it takes is for you to sit there, or stand where ever you are and focus on your breathing, in and out, in and out while thinking of nothing else. Concentrate and focus on your breath, in through the nose and out through the mouth. You will think and things will pop into your mind and that’s ok, just re-focus on your breathing. Once you start practicing this and you start getting used to it, you’ll find you can continue doing it for a little longer each time. You’ll find it easier to re-focus and maybe even not having to re-focus.

Once this in itself becomes a habit you’ll find it so much easier to focus your attention on where it’s needed and at any time. So that the notion to stop swearing and the idea of not picking your nose will be front and centre of your thoughts and you can travel on auto-pilot through your day.





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