More than Willpower: How to Break an Unhealthy Habit
“…Understand your actions, for they become habits. Study your habits, for they become your character. ..” Oliver Wendell Holmes
Why do I keep doing this to myself? Whether it’s overeating, not exercising, smoking too much or biting your nails. You know it’s not healthy. But all your efforts to break the habit by sheer will have left you stressed and exhausted. And eventually they failed.
Here’s why. Habits form on a subconscious level. Often as a learned response to stress. The habit supports, calms and sooths you. The reward is a chemical release of dopamine – the natural high runners often talk about. Repeating the behavior delivers the same pleasurable reward. The brain reverts to the learned response making it automatic.
Willpower may interrupt this automatic response temporarily. But to make a lasting change you must create a new healthy habit to take the place of the old ingrained habit. To be successful it is essential you know the answers to the following:
Why Change the Habit
Know your motivation to change. You have to have a compelling “why”. Ask yourself, “Why make the change now? What gives me the determination to change? What will I gain? What will happen if I don’t change?”
What Triggers the Habit
Understand your pattern: What triggers the habits i.e., where are you, who are you with and what are you doing? What is pleasant and unpleasant about the habit? What’s in it for you besides the feel good ‘rush”?
How to Link the New Habit to a Reward
What healthy habit can you create to replace the unhealthy habit and get similar rewards, satisfaction? You must enjoy the change as something that brings joy in your life. Give yourself small rewards often to link pleasure to your new behavior. Because if it doesn’t feel good permanent change won’t happen.
When Will the New Habit Stick
Studies show it takes from 21- 28 days to make new pathways in the brain for a new habit to become ingrained . To make it “stick” the new habit needs practice, consistency, focus and repetition for it to become automatic.
The only thing left for you to do is mark your calendar for day 1 :
- Post your motivation and rewards list everywhere for continued incentive.
- Get support from family, friends, role models for positive reinforcement if you need it.
- Avoid temptation- the old triggers - until you are strong enough.
- Give yourself small rewards often. Factor in a long term reward to celebrate your success.
Finally, to ensure long term results visualize the new you repelling the unhealthy habit and replacing it with the healthy habit. Several times a day. Be consistent. Every day for the next 28 days.
Your comment: What if anything did you do to overcome an unhealthy habit? What worked?