• How to Effectively Break a Destructive Habit

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    How to Effectively Break a Destructive Habit

    A habit has been defined as a routine behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously. Usually, it’s also difficult to give up. According to a Duke University study, 40 percent of all human behaviors aren’t conscious decisions but can be classified as habits.

    That is a massive amount of action done without much thought. Some habits are important, such as brushing your teeth or putting on a coat when the weather turns cold. Other habits tend to be more destructive, such as overeating, excess shopping, nail biting, smoking, drinking alcohol or abusing drugs.

    The Process of Forming a Habit

    Experts say habits are typically formed in three stages.

    1. Cue – a trigger that initiates the behavior
    2. Response – enacting the behavior
    3. Reinforcement – the benefit you gain from doing the behavior

    Think of your habits at the end of a long work day. Many people come home and plop in a lounge chair in front of the television set. It is a behavior we have engaged in thousands of times to the point where we do it without conscious effort.

    For some addicts, however, the habit of “lounging” at home cues the beginning of a destructive response of grabbing a beer or cocktail in order to “relax.” One drink can lead to another and before you know it, they’re unapproachable or they fall asleep. The positive reinforcement comes from not having to exert any effort in engaging with others.

    Breaking Habits of Addiction

    The good news is that habits are learned behaviors and with time, they can be “unlearned.” You may not be able to completely forget your unwanted learned behaviors, but research shows that they can be replaced with more favorable ones that result in healthier outcomes.

    This transformation will take commitment, effort, patience and the willingness to change your environment. Currently, your surroundings are likely making your bad habit easier and almost mechanical. Your environment is one of the most powerful cues that trigger an unwanted response.

    For example, it is common for smokers to associate lighting up a cigarette immediately following a meal. By choosing a diversion, such as helping your child with homework right after dinner or checking your email at the end of every meal, the pattern is broken and the environment is modified. However, while this sounds simple, changing a destructive habit is actually far from easy.

    Making a Plan to Succeed

    Forcing a change of habit will be a rocky path, even painful at times. You will be surprised at how creating a small diversion (like calling a friend) and modifying your focus can help avoid a detrimental habit, but you may not always get it right. As with any endeavor, one of the best paths to succeed is to reflect on the problem at hand and jot down a plan.

    • List

    Make a list of possible diversions or healthy replacements for your previous habit. Keep it where you’ll see it immediately before you even encounter the cue for your destructive behavior. If you actually see your choices in front of you, it will be easier to choose to take part in the better behavior on a consistent basis.

    • Environment

    Think of a way to ensure that all activities that trigger your harmful habit occur outside your normal day-to-day environment. This will help eliminate your triggers and put an end to the cue-response behavior that has become so detrimental.

    • See it, Believe it

    Visualize the new behavior and mentally practice the action in advance. Visualization can go a long way when it comes to successfully executing a plan. Imagine yourself choosing the better options and think of the feelings of satisfaction it would bring your afterwards.

    Breaking a habit can be a daily struggle, but you have to remember that you were not born with these abusive routines. Even if you find yourself slipping up in the beginning, know that each and every time you do prevent yourself from engaging in the unwanted behavior is a small win towards creating a more positive daily life.


    Audrey Beim holds two advanced degrees from major universities, including a Master’s Degree in Psychology. She has over 20 years of experience in the health, wellness, nutritional and fitness categories and has used her expertise to write articles for media outlets such as Linfield Media and Examiner.com.


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