How do you break a bad habit?


By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Breaking Bad Habits.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Do you have some bad habits you’d like to stop?

Many people have behaviors they would call a “bad habit,” they say they would like to stop. Habits by their very nature are things we do automatically, without thought, which makes them extra challenging to stop. Psychologists have studied habits, how to create them, and how to break them. There are some things you need to consider if you want to change a habit.

You have been doing the things that have become a habit for a long time. In the early stages of habit formation, it may not take long for something to become a new habit. If a fast-food restaurant gets you to come in for three visits in a row you will probably be a regular customer. Breaking that habit will probably take a lot longer. Highly reinforcing habits such as drugs and alcohol will require even more effort to end.

Is this habit something you can really stop?

There’s a difference between changing a habit that you need and want you don’t need. Many people would like to stop overeating or reduce the amount of food they eat. Humans must eat some food so the techniques you would use to reduce the amount of food you’re eating, would be very different from the methods you would use to end a bad habit such as drug use, that needs to be stopped completely.

Do you really want to stop this “bad habit?”

I’ve mentioned more than once that my purchasing of books has become a bad habit. I buy a lot of books. Sometimes more than I can read. I also download quite a few free Kindle e-books. While I say I need to stop accumulating books faster than I can read them, this is not a habit I especially want to break. It’s easy for me to excuse this habit on the grounds that I’m an author with at least six publish books, and if I’m going to write books, I need to read a great many also. I don’t actually want to stop this habit.

Many of the clients I work with, in my therapy practice, have bad habits such as drug use, which they want to stop completely. The techniques you use for ending a bad habit altogether, are different from the methods you use if you’re only trying to keep your habit from getting out of control.

What techniques can be used to end a bad habit?

First, let’s look at the ways to end a bad habit you want to eliminate entirely. Second, we will look at some techniques for modifying “bad habits” you want to reduce or control. Lastly, let’s look at some methods that might be useful regardless of whether you want to stop altogether or want to reduce the time and money you spend on the “bad habit.”

Eliminate cues that remind you to engage in this bad habit.

Most habits have cues that automatically trigger a response. Your phone rings and you reach and answer it. It’s hard to ignore that ringing phone even when you want to do something else. Turning off the ringing sound may help you avoid answering it when you need to focus on something else. Reducing or eliminating cues is an essential step in ending a bad habit.

People in substance abuse recovery are encouraged to get rid of drugs, alcohol, and any paraphernalia they might use. For recovering alcoholic, that means getting rid of your collection of beer-themed decorations or your collection of shot glasses. People use other drugs should get rid of things like pipes.

Avoid places you used to go to engage in this bad habit.

For an alcoholic stopping at the liquor store, even to pick up a gallon of milk, or some bread is a risky behavior. Hanging out in the bar, even if it’s only to play pool is likely to trigger urges to drink. Hanging out with people who drink or use drugs is also a risky behavior. Seeing them engage in the action you’re trying to stop is likely to cue intense cravings.

How might you alter a habit you don’t want to end completely?

Here are some suggestions for modifying a habit when you don’t want to end completely. Psychologists have suggested these for things such as eating less or not drinking as much.

To eat less, reduce the amount available.

Serving food on smaller plates can help you cut down on how much you consume. Using smaller size glasses can reduce the volume of fluids you drink. Purchasing things like chocolate in smaller container sizes can reduce your consumption. Limiting the amount of food or beverages you consume by using smaller containers will only work if you don’t make repeated trips back to refill.

Use your nondominant hand for eating or drinking.

Using your nondominant hand slows down the eating or drinking process. People who ate popcorn with their nondominant hand ate smaller amounts, especially when the popcorn was stale. Changing how you do something, slows the process down, and may result in doing less of it.

Driving the “mindbus” can help you ignore automatic thoughts.

Sometimes it feels as if they’re a bunch of voices in your head urging you to do things you don’t want to do. I’m not talking about the voices that people with a serious mental illness experience. When you have those automatic thoughts telling you to do things you know, they are thoughts coming from your own brain. But when your mind is telling you that you need some more chocolate or another drink, it’s hard to ignore those automatic thoughts.

In the mindbus technique, you picture yourself as the driver of a bus taking yourself somewhere you want to go. All those loud voices in your head that are trying to distract you are the passengers on your bus. Ignore the noisy urges clamoring for you to turn the bus and take it in a different direction and stick to the route you have selected.

Substitute a positive behavior for a negative one.

If you have urges to eat some more chocolate, select a carrot or other fruit instead. Instead of heading to the bar go to an AA meeting or religious service. Rather than eat mindlessly go for a walk or do another exercise. By substituting positive behaviors for negative behaviors, you reduce your bad habits and improve the quality of your life.

What bad habits do you want to modify or end altogether?

For more on this topic, you might want to check out the British Psychological Society podcast on Breaking Bad Habits.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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