What time is it? Time for another Psychology 101 article! *hears non-existent readers cheering in the distance*
Today’s article is going to be about our habits. Maybe some of you feel like you don’t really have any actions that are habitual but I can (almost) guarantee that you do. Habits can range from small actions such as chewing gum all the way to habits that can impact your life like procrastination.
Before we get into it, let’s define what habits really are:
Habits are behaviours that we do again and again and eventually become automatic. Generally these habitual behaviours are difficult to stop once we have started them. But don’t worry! I’m not here to shame anyone for their bad habits—in fact I’m going to try give you some advice about how to stop them.
First, why are habits so hard to stop in the first place?
Here’s a fun psychological/biological brain fact: humans are actually hard wired to create habits. Our brains are designed so we learn through repetition. When you repeat a word to a baby many times it will eventually pick up the word through repetition. This learning style means humans can’t help but make habits because from a young age we repeat our actions over and over again.
The good thing is humans generally only repeat an action if they know it’s beneficial for them. So how do we form bad habits? Well, sometimes an action can be beneficial or rewarding to us in the moment but bad for us in the long run.
For example: you might start having ice-cream occasionally after dinner for desert. Then you realize, “Wow, ice-cream is great. I mean I knew that before, but it’s actually exceptional,” and before you know it, you’re eating ice-cream everyday after every meal. When we are doing the behaviour it’s rewarding in the moment. However in the long run it’s probably unhealthy. That’s why habits are so hard to stop because though we consciously know an action might be bad for us, our brains find it difficult to give up the reward in the moment. Also, as our habits are automatic we sometimes we do them without even consciously deciding to.
If habits are so hard to stop then should we all just give up hope?
No! It’s not all doom and gloom! There are definitely ways to break habits and I’m going to list some right here:
- Replace your bad habit with something else.
For example if your bad habit is eating a whole ice cream box (yes I’m back to talking about ice cream, leave me alone) to make you feel better whenever you’re sad then you can replace that habit with listening to sad music in the dark and crying on your bed (I know it sounds stupid but it’s totally therapeutic, trust me).
- Create a plan for coping
When you’re about to engage in your bad habit find a way of coping. Whether it’s breathing exercises, talking to a friend or even a humming a song, find some way to distract and prevent yourself from your bad habit.
- Get rid of tRigGeRs
If your habit is eating ice cream get rid of all the ice cream in your house. If your habit is going on your phone before you sleep, turn off your phone at night. If your habit is biting your fingernails, cut off your hands (is that taking it too far?).
- Grab a partner
It’s a lot easier to break a habit if someone is also trying to break the same habit. That way you can work together to help each other (or turn it into a competition). If you can’t find someone with the same habit then tell a friend anyway so they slap you when you give in to your habit.
- Believe in yourself
This is pretty self explanatory. Maybe you could get a motivational picture with a cat on it?
I mean it’s impossible to let these cats down. Or any cat. Just get a cat.
Before I finish this article I want to say that…
Not all habits are bad. Most of you have probably heard the saying, “practice makes perfect,” meaning that overtime we will become better at something if we keep practicing and repeating what we know.
Take the piano for example: when you first start you’ll have no idea where to place your hands but after practicing many times you’ll automatically place both your thumbs on the C key and your other fingers on the keys next to it. Now you’ve formed a good habit! (God, I hope that’s right, I stopped my piano lessons like 7 years ago and that’s the only thing I remember).
Obviously, if your habit is a good one you shouldn’t use the steps above to stop it. Instead you should pat yourself on the back.
To end this article I would like to say thanks for reading and give you all a challenge to try and stop a bad habit – and start a good one! (One suggestion of a good habit would be to come to KIS Today every second Monday to read my posts 🙂 ) See you next time!