This post takes you through the most effective tried and tested methods to overcome bad habits through self help. You can use this post to overcome phobias, obsessions, and negative thought patterns too, however for clarity of thought here we have used bad habits as examples.
Why Use Self Help and Self Treatment methods?
Being proactive about making yourself happier and healthier is an important skill for life – learning methods to help you overcome problems on your own is important for your self reliance and independence, whether it be bad habits, debt, physical ailments, or anything else.
You are living in a time when this is possible – with so much good free knowledge available on the internet, self help information is now accessible for all to take advantage of.
It is proven to be effective – In extreme such cases as OCD this has been proven to be as effective as drug treatments for breaking destructive and obsessive habits, and it is far better for you as you are not putting chemicals into your body.
What is a Bad Habit, and Why Do We Develop Them?
A bad habit is anything detrimental to your life, that you do on a regular basis, and feel powerless to resist. You enter into a habit loop, whereby the habit is triggered by some kind of stimulus, that leads you to indulge in the habit, then you get some kind of positive feedback for doing the habit at the end. For example, for somebody who is it the habit of smoking before bed, they may have the stimuli of getting ready for bed, which triggers them to think about having a cigarette as part of their routine, so they indulge in a cigarette, and then they are rewarded at the end, by feeling relaxed and having a good sleep. The only problem being, people will convince themselves that their habit produces the reward, and when they indulge in the habit and don’t receive the reward, they will justify it due to being from some external factor, whether it is or it isn’t, all the time indulging in the habit and causing detriment to their health. For example, in the case used above, the person is getting a good nights sleep due to taking 5 minutes to relax and get some fresh air, rather than from smoking a cigarette. When they have a bad nights sleep, they will attribute it to something like work stress, rather than questioning why the cigarette didn’t help them like they normally believe it to.
A Proven Method to Break Bad Habits in 8 Steps
- Put yourself in front of the bad habit and abstain from doing it. If you are trying to give up smoking, sit in front of a pack of cigarettes, if you are trying to give up fast food, go to your favourite burger chain and buy their biggest meal, but make sure you don’t indulge in it.
- Monitor your thought process and why you are drawn to it. Is it the smell? What do you like about it so much? What are the triggers that draw you into it?
- Think about the disadvantages and why it’s bad for you. Is it unhealthy? Why? How is it going to affect your future self if you do it? Make sure you ask these questions whilst sitting in front of the object that normally triggers your bad habit, and abstaining from it.
- Inhabit your body fully. Try some meditation techniques to clear your mind. Focus on your breathing, and observe when your thoughts start to intrude on your mind, each time refocusing your attention on your breathing.
- Understand it is in your power to overcome it. What have you done in your life that is great, big or small? If it seems like you haven’t done anything great, then that is surely a lie. Overcoming a tragedy in your life, learning something new, learning to read, learning to write, dealing with a difficult situation, getting a qualification, learning to walk. These are all achievements which are far greater than breaking the bad habit you have, however, somehow you may still feel powerless to overcome it. The blogger and investor Tai Lopez talks at length about learned helplessness, and how nowadays we often assume we are helpless when this isn’t the case. There have been a number of studies with animals, whereby the animal is given a repeated aversive stimuli such as pain in an enclosed environment where they are unable to escape. In repeated experiments, after being given an opportunity to escape, the animal choose not to take it, because it had learn that it was helpless, even though now it was no longer helpless! Does this relate to your situation at all?
- Repeat the above steps regularly. You need to repeat these steps until you have learned a different reaction to the stimuli, other than indulging in your habit. Repeat the above steps everyday for two weeks, every time you break back into your habit again. If you do not kick your habit by developing a different learned reaction, then you are surely to by wanting to avoid the tediousness of doing another two week cycle.
- Hack the habit loop. You can hack your habit loop, by replacing your habit or stimuli, with something else, rather than your normal detrimental habit. This involves somewhat redesigning your life so that it automatically breaks your habit. For example, if you are a smoker, you could replace where you normally put your cigarettes with a packet of herbal tea, so when you go to reach for your cigarettes, you find the herbal tea, and drink that instead of smoking. You are not getting rid of the habit, but effectively replacing the detrimental habit with a good one, so that you will not automatically break back into your bad habit whilst on autopilot.
A Scientific Study of Therapy Compared With Drugs in Breaking Bad Habits
On the most extreme end of the spectrum of bad habits is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). People with OCD form obsessive habits to try to ease anxiety most commonly over illness and safety, whether justified or not. In Daniel Goleman’s book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ (page 255) he cites a study of patients with OCD. The patients were split off into two groups, and one group were given the drug commonly used to treat OCD, Fluxoutine (more widely known under the brand name Prozac). The second group were given therapy, in which the patients were placed in front of their obsessive habits, such as hand wash basin, and not allowed to indulge in the habit, whilst questioning why they were compelled to do it. After prolonged therapy, and respectively Fluxoutine, of the two simultaneous groups, the patients had PET scans done. The scans showed that both groups had significantly decreased activity in the caudate nucleus (a key part of the emotional brain). The therapy had changed brain function just as effectively as the drug!
Smoking – This can be used to overcome one of the most common negative habits. Abstaining from smoking and learning a different reaction, alongside hacking the habit loop and replacing it with electronic cigarettes, then herbal caffeine free tea, can give you the best chance of stopping. Indeed many ex-smokers now think smoking is disgusting and question why they ever did it, as they now have a different learned reaction to it.
Facebook – Social Media is great for many things, but many people find it eats into their lives at unsuspecting moments, and before they know it they have spent over an hour, scrolling their news feed, watching random video clips and laughing at memes. Although it is a tool that can be used to good effect, breaking out of the habit of mindless social media usage can free up valuable time to do life enriching activities, such as reading (link to 7 benefits) and exercise. A combination of abstaining from doing it, questioning why you do it and if it is beneficial to your life, and downloading a Kindle app onto your phone, and setting it as the default app to show when you unlock your phone, is a good way to make sure you don’t get sucked back into this habit, and replace the time with meaningful reading.
Arguing With Friends / Partner – Some people find a certain amount of arguing in their relationship is healthy, but too much and it can become all consuming. It is always better to find constructive solutions to problems, rather than just arguing back and forth. Spending quality time with your partner, and employing the methods described here can be an effective way to break out of a bad cycle.
Fried Food – Another common bad habit that can be broken using the principles here.
What have you found is the best way to break bad habits you may have got into?
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