5 Powerful Steps to Reprogram Your Brain to Ditch Bad Habits

5 Powerful Steps to Reprogram Your Brain to Ditch Bad Habits

Habits are an inevitable part of human nature. Whether good or bad, everybody has a few tendencies that they act upon on a daily basis. Humans have biological tendencies to comfort themselves with familiarity, but at the same time a balance of novelty is necessary for contentment.

When the comfort is found in harmful habits, such as smoking, drinking, low self-esteem and laziness (as well as other bad health habits), it becomes a self-defeating crutch that gets worse over time.

There are ways you can trick your brain to ditch bad habits. First it helps to understand why habits form to begin with. When something begins to have a regular presence in your life, the neural pathways in your brain grow increasingly familiar with that comfort. The steps below help you break down those pathways and use neuroplasticity to replace them with good ones.

Step 1: Admit the habit and make a goal

Denial is basically fuel for bad habits. People might know exactly what their bad habits are but never face them and admit flaws. Write your habit on a piece of paper and list a few reasons it’s negative for you.

(Example): Habit: Waking up past noon

  • I get behind on all the housework
  • There’s little to no time for leisure
  • There’s hardly any time to prepare for work
  • I’m restless until late hours of the night

It will be much easier to ditch a bad habit if you’re consciously recognizing the cause of your daily inconveniences. After you’ve acknowledged it, you should also set a goal. The person in the example above might have an overall goal of waking up before 9 a.m. on the weekdays.

Step 2: Find your habit triggers

Habits are tied in with plenty of factors. If you’re trying to ditch a habit, consider the things that cause the habit. The person listed above that sleeps in too much might be drinking coffee at night or playing video games past midnight.

A smoker might grab a cigarette because they’re bored and don’t have any hobbies to resort too (if you are smoker – try these 5 natural ways to stop smoking). If you’re doing the habit you want to ditch, consider the factors that lead to the habit and structure your schedule to avoid them.

In many cases this is easier said than done, the triggers of bad habits are often difficult to pinpoint and simply avoid all together. Here it’s important to stay mindful of the negative results of a habit; without a desire for change, changing your neural pathways is nearly impossible.

Step 3: Realize how possible a better life is

Neuroplasticity is the way your brain is constantly adapting to the surrounding environment and form new neural connections that are appropriate to your choices [1]. This isn’t a fantastical sort of pseudo science; hard science and scholarly papers back it.

A good basic model to approach bad habits is the SOARR method [2]:

  • STOP and observe your thoughts. How do they affect your mood?
  • OBSERVE your perspective on the habit and why it makes you feel a particular way.
  • ASK yourself if there is anyone you could talk to that is reliable and knowledgeable.
  • REFRAME the way you are looking at things from a perspective other than your own.
  • RESPOND to the habit in a way that will be beneficial to you and the people around you.

Using SOARR and the above mentioned steps will pinpoint habits and hopefully eliminate them. They’ll be much easier to leave behind, however, if you try to adopt better habits in the process.

Step 4: Find beneficial habits

This step is a lot easier if you sit down with pen and paper and brainstorm which habits could make your life better. Start with habits that counteract your old habits. Instead of waking up past noon you could aim for a steady 8 a.m. alarm every morning.

Instead of lounging on the couch and playing games you could make a habit of taking daily morning walks. It could be miniscule as well, like remembering to pet your dog after work. Whatever the habit, note what positive impacts it may have on your life and keep them in mind during the next step.

Step 5: Familiarize your brain with beneficial habits

A study at Duke University found a distinct link between habits and previous experience [3]. Start making the good habits part of your previous experience as a staple to a daily routine. Consistency is key here.

Doing something in the same fashion, like during a certain part of the day or after a particular meal, will make the neural pathways more changeable. It creates mental cues that become routine, which keeps the good habit from slipping out of touch and into a forgotten land like they so commonly do.

How to stay motivated

Think of the cartoons with people that have donuts dangling in front of them from a pole and string attached to them. You have to keep the reward in mind if you sincerely want change to come about.

The efforts to adopt a new habit take patience — neuroplasticity is far from an overnight process. On average it takes almost 70 days to have a real impact on your neural pathways [4].

With all this in mind, ready yourself for a better life. Everybody has a few bad habits they could afford to lose, whether major or minor. Reprogramming your brain might sound like science fiction, but it’s a reality that could make your life better with patience and persistence.

Our brain is an amazing organ but as we age, our brain starts to lose its ability to process information. Days that we can’t seem to concentrate are more frequently and we tend to forget more.

Although age-associated cognitive decline is something we all have to face, there are some natural ways to slow down the process and improve overall brain function – read about them in my article: How to Improve Your Brain Function Naturally.

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Article References

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