Breaking and Remaking Habits

Breaking and Remaking Habits

We all know what it’s like to struggle with bad habits.

Habits drive our daily routines and most of them go unnoticed! They affect us in small ways – like determining which shoe we put on first – and big ways, such as our spending patterns, the food we eat, and what we do to unwind at the end of the day. But since it’s so easy to pinpoint our habits, why is it so hard to change them?

All habits stem from an action-reward cycle. We fall into patterns because we experience something positive from those actions – even if it’s short-lived and is detrimental to us in the long run. For example, if your goal is to contribute more to your savings account but you are in the habit of overspending on nights out, it’s because you get an instant reward – the enjoyment of a night out with friends – even though it doesn’t align with your long-term financial goals.

To break a habit, there are a few key steps you can take:

1. Identify the cues. Our habits tend to stem from both internal and external cues. Perhaps you find it difficult to resist happy hour on Friday nights after work, even though you know you should be allocating those funds toward your savings. What are the cues that drive you to go anyway? Perhaps it’s stress and anxiety from the work week. Or maybe, it’s pressure from your friends or colleagues. Whatever the driving force behind the habit is, identifying it will make it easier to overcome.

2. Replace the habit. Bad habits develop in the first place because we crave the (real or perceived) benefit of certain actions. Eliminating a habit entirely will cause us to crave that reward, which is why we so easily fall back into our bad habits. Now is the time to consider new behaviors that will provide us with that satisfaction without being detrimental.

You’ve already identified your cues – let’s say that it’s work stress that drives you to participate in happy hour every week. What else can you do to relieve stress? Perhaps something such as a quiet meditation session, a long walk around the neighborhood, or making plans in advance to cook dinner with a friend at home would be sufficient. Think of what you enjoy – that also aligns with your goals – and give it a try!

3. Repeat. Replacing habits is hard work! It will be a conscious effort for some time until eventually, your new habits will become automatic behaviors. Don’t be discouraged if you slip up. When you fall off the bandwagon, simply cut your losses and get back on.

Keep your goals at the top of your mind always. Every time you feel the urge to resurrect an old habit – remember why you changed it in the first place and ask yourself if it’s worth it. If you commit to it, your efforts will surely pay off!

Photo Credit: Robyn Mackenzie/Bigstock