BREAKING THE BAD HABITS - FOR GOOD
First of all, let me show you a picture.
Source: High School parties
This is me at a classmate’s birthday party in High School.
I was resting, after consuming a little too many alcoholic beverages.
For most of High School, I had a terrible addiction to alcohol, be it beer, vodka or other alcoholic beverages. Anything that had a good amount of alcohol in it, was my friend. I knew it was unhealthy for my body, but at the same time, it gave me something I was craving.
You can probably relate to that. If there’s a satisfying reward, you will do something, even if it’s not in your best interest. Usually, you say “One more time”, “I will stop it one day” or “I will stop when I will want to”. Usually, it hardly happens.
It’s not easy to get out of doing a specific habit. After you pay attention to it, you can actually see how hard it is to stop doing it. I wasn’t sure when my alcohol addiction would stop, however, it eventually did.
Did I take any magic pill? Did I found the secret recipe to habit breaking? What happened after such a long time that I was able to stop drinking altogether and actually didn’t find it enjoyable at all anymore.
First of all, I stopped drinking beer because I was beginning to develop a beer belly. That’s when I switched to vodka and other more alcoholic dense beverages. Although that did help with me not being fatter anymore, I was actually doing more damage to my liver. After a few years, in my last year of High School, I was able to stop drinking once and for all. It’s because of one specific reason.
I found out I have a gluten intolerance
I had this problem for many years but wasn’t aware of it. As soon as I found it by just reading on the internet about general health, I switched my lifestyle to a ketogenic diet, which is what you would call either an Atkins Diet or a Low-Carb Diet. Of course, that meant I cut gluten completely.
What happened after that? I just felt better.
I’ve never felt my body so relaxed from so many aspects. It was like I took a magic pill that gave me superpowers. More energy, more focus, less stress, more awareness and a general good feeling.
What actually happened that made stop alcohol at that exact time?
Reward #1: Without gluten in my life, my body was feeling good. Alcohol was giving just a quick instant gratification fix, changing my eating habits made me feel better all the time.
Reward #2: I have always been a big fan of fitness, especially lifting weights. When you eat better, you also see better results from the work you put into your workouts.
Reward #3: Having more time physically and mentally.Who doesn’t want more time? Without alcohol in my life, I had my mind set on other things and I was able to concentrate more on them.
Now I want to show you how to deconstruct and understand habits, in order to break them at your own will.
WHAT ARE HABITS?
I could write a book about habits, but others have already done that. I want to give you the simplest and most practical information so you can actually do something with it.
To put it simply, a habit is an ingrained pattern or behavior.
As Charles Duhigg states in his book, The Power of Habit, there are 3 steps that form a habit.
1. Cue (Trigger)
2. Routine (Action)
Cue + Routine + Rewards adds a 4th component to the mix, THE CRAVING.
Cue – Routine – Reward of Checking Email
WHAT IS A BAD HABIT?
Any habit that stands in opposition to your long-term goals.
Basically, you are acting against your own self-interest.
Cue – Routine – Reward of Checking Facebook or Hitting Snooze in the Morning
HOW OUR BRAIN INFLUENCES OUR HABITS?
Our brain has evolved with one goal in mind.
What does that mean? Let me give you an example on how our brain developed the relationship with food.
Food >> Calories >> Survival
This is the case, especially with sugar. Sugar sends signals to our brain that tells you “remember WHAT you’re eating and WHERE you found it”
See Food >> Eat food >> Feel Good >> Repeat
Trigger >> Behavior >> Reward
So what happens next time you feel BAD? Eat something to feel BETTER. What are these?
Some people were nerds in their teenage school years (gaming nerd here). We see those rebel kids smoking and we might think “Hey, I wanna be cool”, so we might start smoking.
See Cool >> Smoke to be Cool >> Repeat
Feeling stressed out >> Urge to smoke cigarette / Eat something sweet
Now with these same brain processes, we have gone from learning to survive to literally killing ourselves with these habits.
Obesity and smoking are among the leading preventable causes of morbidity and mortality in the world.
It’s a vicious cycle, as you can see in this image or in the image below.
HOW TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM?
Knowing smoking is bad is not enough.
We need to add a twist.
We need to be conscious of what we are doing, however, knowing smoking is bad is not enough. The brain tries to stop us from smoking or eating a cookie. Unfortunately, the exact same part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, goes offline when we are stressed out.
When our prefrontal cortex goes offline 🢂 we fall into our old habits.
Learning from History. Odysseus and the Sirens.
WIn the story of Odyssey, also known as Ulysses, when Odysseus and his men are sailing past the island of the Sirens, he actually has his men bind him to the ship’s mast with ropes and then put beeswax in their own ears.
Why did he do that?
Because the Sirens are portrayed as monstrous women with beautiful voices, who are trying to lure the sailors to death. By doing what Odyssey planned, his men can’t hear the Sirens song at all and he can still hear to navigate the ship, but he won’t be able to give in to the temptation.
Source: The Odyssey
WE NEED TO BEAT THE AKRASIA EFFECT
What is Akrasia?
Akrasia (greek word) = short term programming.
It’s basically the state of mind in which we act against our better judgement, our will is just not strong enough at specific times. Like I said before, we all fall prey into this and it is because of our prefrontal cortex, which goes offline when we are stressed out.
That is why we don’t follow through on what we set out to do. But there is a solution.
CREATING NEW HABITS
Ok, now that you know what powers you are up against, we need to solve them.
Here is the simple 3 step formula to create NEW HABITS:
1. You need a REASON.
- find your real WHY.
- look at the future benefits.
2. Find a different routine that replaces the REWARD with something similar.
- sometimes you have to dig deep and figure out what the actual reward you’re craving is.
- we each have deep desires, find yours by analyzing other habits that are already in your life.
3. The PRE-COMMITMENT strategy.
- remember Odyssey? Force your future self to change.
- remove as much access to that habit as possible.
Source: Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit
3 IMPORTANT TIPS TO HELP YOU FORM NEW HABITS
We have the ability to do whatever we want.
However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The future you is always perfect. “I will do that” or “I won’t do that again” are easy to say in our present moment when we are excited, but when our brain is tired or hits a wall that it has to push, it will try to go in the comfort zone.
Here are a few things that will definitely help you, just as it helped me, to form and maintain new habits.
1. Focus on your environment
The habit is triggered by something. What if that specific something is actually the environment?
What happens if you crave some sugar at night? Do you receive any prize for not touching that ice cream in your freezer for a couple of days? Not really.
What if you didn’t have an ice cream in your freezer in the first place? What if you already established yourself an environment that makes desirable behaviors easy.
Do you like sweet food? Why not go for a homemade low-calorie mix made with Stevia?
Low-calorie + Sweet = Win-Win. Plus, it’s homemade, you would buy it at a premium price going out, but home you will pay less than for the ice cream, AND you can eat even more.
Surround yourself with people who live the way you want to live.
2. Talk with yourself
In your mind, you know something you are doing is not right. But how does this help?
Put your thoughts into words before you engage in a bad habit. Tell yourself “Hey, wait a minute, this is not right”. Try stepping for a second away and talking with the person in you that tries to do that specific action.
How would you respond if you would say out loud
“I know it’s bad, but I deserve this”
“One more time won’t hurt me”
Really? Do we actually believe ourselves?
You have to push through Days 3-8 from the below image. They are not easy but on the other side of the road, you will find much more joy and fulfilment.
Use the word “but” to overcome negative self–talk.
“I’m fat, BUT I know in a few months I can be fit if create good habits”
“I’m stressed because I don’t know what to do, BUT I will teach myself how to do it”
“I’m a failure, BUT everyone fails sometimes”
3. Write down your habit and create incremental goals
If you don’t write it down, it means you don’t care enough.
Are you serious about this?
Just get a pen and paper!
Write it down. This means you actually care about changing and take your time to do something about it.
We all need some time to adapt. This means you have to create incremental changes. No need to go cold turkey. It’s scientifically proven it doesn’t give the best results. There’s a better way.
Creating incremental goals.
How does that work? Well you basically make small changes that will help you get where you want easier.
Let’s try to see how this would work with cigarettes, cookies or any other bad habit you want to try getting rid of.
- 15 cigarettes each day for week 1
- 10 cigarettes each day for week 2
- 5 cigarettes each day for week 3
- 3 cigarettes each day for week 4
- 2 cigarettes each day for week 5
- 1 or less cigarettes each day for week 6
Does this sound easier to achieve? Of course it does. Break it into smaller chunks, don’t try to be a hero.
When you will get to that point where you are not doing that habit anymore, you will have to go through some days of struggle. Your brain doesn’t want change from something that was easy for it do in the past, but if you get past that adaption phase, it’s all over. You’ve conquered and won the battle.
Now the old habit is gone and the new and improved one took it’s place.
Physiology of Adaptation when forming new habits
LAST TIP: FOCUS ON WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO DO
We are usually saying what we won’t do.
That’s not the right way to think about it. Are you trying to stop doing one thing? Then why not try to fight your habits with the best tools? Scientists and a lot of other people before us found the best methods to create new habits. There is no reason to try the recreate the wheel here.
Do you want to get rid of a bad habit? Or do you want to create a good habit?
Let me give you an example so it is easier to see the difference.
- Do you want to stop eating junk food that makes you feel bad? OR do you want to eat healthy food which gives you more energy to enjoy life?
- Do you want to stop betting money? OR do you want to have more money in your pocket for other things?
The brain doesn’t learn by “not doing”, it learns by being curious and interested in “doing”.
We need to see clearly what we get when we get caught up in our behavior. This is called mindfulness.
Mindfulness helps us by making us become more interested in getting more personal with what happens in our bodies and minds from moment to moment. To go toward an experience rather than trying to make unpleasant cravings go away.
Curiosity is rewarding, that that is why it is the answer to solving our bad habits.
Using words that help your brain
If you were looking for the short summary after all this talk, here it is.
To form new habits and get rid of the old ones do these 3 steps:
#1. Find the reason why you want to change it.
#2. Give yourself a reward for doing the new habit.
#3. Create a strategy for helping your future self.
Here is some extra help as well.
#1. Create a friendly environment, be it in your house or your circle of friends.
#2. Have a discussion with the person in you each time it wants to routinely do a bad habit.
#3. Write it down as you would solve a problem. Write an incremental goal to make the change easier.
Now that you know all this, what can stop you anymore? Is there any excuse that is holding you back?
What new habit that you can put in place starting this week to help you achieve one of your goals faster?
Now let’s break those bad habits and create some new ones.
Reading this article is already a step in the right direction, let’s keep the momentum going.
I am going to end this with a quote from Aristotle, we should probably really listen to his advice.