How to break bad habits: simple advice from a psychologist
How to break bad habits: simple advice from a psychologist

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How to break bad habits: simple advice from a psychologist
How to break bad habits: simple advice from a psychologist

One day after my lecture on habit formation, a woman in the audience exclaimed, “You teach how to create new habits, but that's not a problem for me. I can't stop bad old habits. Therefore, I am still fat. I understand her very well. I myself used to have serious obesity, although, looking at me now, it's hard to believe.

Indeed, starting a new habit and quitting an old one are completely different things. Regardless of what you want to do - give up junk food or stop distractions at work.

To form a habit, you need to bring a series of new actions to automatism. The brain remembers a causal relationship between a trigger that causes an action and a specific outcome. And when the trigger is repeated regularly, the result is repeated.

Let's say you want to take vitamins daily. Place the package where it will catch your eye during your morning gathering, such as next to your toothbrush. Then, during your routine procedures, you will remember about vitamins. And over time, their reception will become automatic. To eradicate a habit, you need to use completely different mechanisms.

But many people misunderstand this distinction between forming habits and getting rid of them.

The writer Charles Duhigg shared his experience in the book "". For a long time, every day he went up to the fourteenth floor of the office building in which he worked and bought cookies (as a result of which he gained almost 4 kilograms of weight). He decided to analyze this habit and realized that the real reward for him was not cookies at all, but conversations with colleagues over food. He replaced the eating of sweets with communication and thus got rid of the harmful factor.

Duhigg echoes the popular belief that in order to eliminate a bad habit, you must replace it with something else. I doubt it. Maybe he was helped by replacing the cookies with communication with colleagues. But if you are just like me, you just adore different goodies and have been struggling with being overweight for years, I cannot advise you to just communicate more when you want sweets.

Another method helped me, which I call "the method of gradual extremes." It works especially well when replacing one habit with another doesn't work. For example, when you need to give up junk food or stop being distracted often.

To get started, choose the habit you want to get rid of.

Let's say you're trying to remove processed sugar from your diet. If you try to do it in one fell swoop, you probably won't succeed because the goal is too big. Start with one sweet food that you can eliminate from your diet without much difficulty. It is important that it is something that you will not miss a lot. This makes it easier to start the process of change for the better.

For example, I started with corn-shaped sugar candies that are popular on Halloween. I never really liked them, so it was easy to give them up. And to reduce distraction, I stopped reading articles in the browser and switched to the Pocket app. The main thing is not to try to completely change immediately, but act gradually.

The next step is to write it down on paper and mark the date of the rejection. This will be a visible reminder of your aspiration.

Well, then you need to be patient, because changes take time. Every few months, go through the list of what you gave up. Be glad that these things no longer have power over you. And when you are ready, add new items to the list.

Remember, if the commitments seem too heavy, then you've really taken on too much. Each step should be given without titanic efforts over oneself, but arouse pride in the fact that you have given up something harmful forever.

This includes eating habits, overuse of technology, and any other unwanted behavior that gets in the way of your goals. Just gradually build up the list of things you no longer do - and this will be an investment in the development of your new personality.