Habit. An action that is performed with such consistency and regularity that it seems to be almost second nature to an individual. In the same way that we alter our behavior towards certain stimuli, so too, can we solidify that reaction until such a point that we manifest that behavior even when we aren’t aware of it?
Habits can make or break a person. They are either what propels us to success or they can also doom us to failure. They are formed over the course of many repetitions. It’s a well-known fact that good habits are encouraged and bad habits need to be broken. We’re told this so many times, yet, we aren’t told how we’re going to achieve this objective.
The most effective way to gain the ability to control something is to first understand its inner workings. You need to be able to determine how a certain thing functions or how a particular phenomenon occurs if you want to be able to harness it to your advantage. And this leads us to the first thing we need to establish. How are habits formed?
The Habit Loop
Habits are formed through a three-part process that involves the following:
- The cue (or stimulus)
- The response (or behavior)
- The reward (reinforcement)
If a particular response to a certain stimulus results in a reward, the brain is more likely to make neural paths that allow us to enact the behavior automatically. This “reward” is not always good.
Sometimes a person will find pleasure in inebriation or whole under the influence of drugs in the same way that an individual could become addicted to video games — all these things cause dopamine levels to increase.
Or if you want to put it in a more positive context, a student may study harder because he derives pleasure from excelling in class or an athlete may train harder because of the post-training euphoria she experiences. As long as the reward is consistent, the response to the cue will always be the same in order to attain the same reward.
Why Is It Difficult To Break Bad Habits?
Habits are difficult to break because of the fact that they are literally hard-wired into our brains through constant repetition. Then add in the fact that a lot of these bad habits also involve pleasure and you’ve got a real problem. If it’s a serious problem, like drug addiction or alcoholism, you may want to get help from professionals like the ones at Changing Tides to help you overcome your addiction.
Also read, Five myths about our habits
How Do You Break Habits?
If you want to break bad habits, you need to be able to identify the cues that trigger those bad habits and to alter your response to them. Not only that, but you also need to be able to perceive the result as pleasurable, or at least, desirable.
But, if you want to keep from reverting to your bad habits, you need to be able to replace those habits with good ones.
Person A watches porn every night before he sleeps. As soon as it’s time to go to bed (cue), he takes it as a signal to watch porn (behavior). He derives pleasure from what he watches (reward).
He can break the habit by reacting differently to the cue by simply ignoring the desire to watch porn. Person A is happy because he perceives this denial of pleasure as a victory.
But, there’s a chance that he could relapse into his bad habit, so he decides to replace the bad habit with a good habit. So:
Instead of watching porn before going to bed (old cue), person A decides to exercise (new behavior) before going to bed instead. The euphoric feeling derived from the increase in endorphin levels (reward).
Nobody should be a slave to their bad habits. Nor should they admit defeat, especially when they have the power to alter their behavior. If you’re despairing over the fact that you can’t seem to break your habits, you’ve never been more wrong. You are much stronger than your desires. Take heart and breakthrough to a better life.