Beat those bad habits

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The start of a new year can be a rejuvenating time when people take inventory of their lives and make positive changes. In a quest for personal growth, many people resolve to reduce or eliminate bad habits.

Habits are one of the ways in which the brain establishes patterns for neurons to follow. Habits help people work on autopilot some of the time, which can save time and energy, an information site educating the public on a wide array of timely topics. Good habits, like showing up to work on time, are worth maintaining. But bad habits can be problematic and potentially unhealthy.

Strategies to break bad habits might work for some but not for others. Perseverance is essential to kicking bad habits, and the following are some additional tips that can help people as they try to ditch certain behaviors once and for all.

  • Recognize the habit. No person is perfect, and each of us has our strengths and weaknesses. Recognizing a bad habit is the first step toward breaking it.
  • Break the pattern by offering a new one. As noted, when a habit is established, neurons form a pattern. Establishing a new, better habit, rather than just trying to quit the bad habit cold turkey, can be an effective way to help the brain adjust to a new pattern, advises neuroscientist Elliot Berkman. He says the brain finds it easier to do something new than to simply stop doing something it’s accustomed to. So if you’re a nail-biter, do something else with your hands, like play a musical instrument, to create a new pattern.
  • Penalize yourself within reason. Making a habit painful in one way or another may make it easier to quit. Penalizing yourself by paying a dollar each time you say a curse word, or extending a workout for an extra 30 minutes for each one you miss are some examples of simple punishments.
  • Reward yourself for beating habits. Rewards for kicking bad habits can be just as effective as penalizing bad behavior. Reward yourself with something unusual and meaningful after you kick a bad habit.
  • Learn your triggers and avoid them. The self-improvement blog Pick the Brain indicates that every bad habit has a cue that can trigger it. Triggers fall into these categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, and an immediately preceding action. By learning your triggers, you can work to avoid them. If eating junk food comes on the tails of a stressful commute, try a different way home. If you smoke when you’re around a particular person who eggs you on, take a break from hanging out with this person.

Breaking bad habits is challenging, but it can happen with focus and dedication.