It’s estimated that 40% of the things we do each day are habitual rather than conscious choices. Our brains develop the ability to perform repetitive tasks without thinking and when this is a positive thing like brushing your teeth or going for a run, it isn’t a problem – but if it’s eating sugary snacks, smoking, biting our nails or drinking too often, it becomes more of an issue. When you decide you want to stop or cut back, you need to break the habits. Here are four approaches that work.
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Use If-Then Systems
In a situation in which you might normally fall into your routine, come up with a plan of action using “If-Then” phrases. IF my colleagues invite me to the pub at lunchtime, THEN I will say I’m meeting a friend already. IF I get home stressed out and want to binge on cakes, THEN I will run a bath instead. You’re more likely to succeed if your THEN statement is both realistic and positive. Don’t focus on what you can’t do; think about what you can do, particularly if it will give you pleasure.
Pause For Thought
The next time you’re tempted to make a choice that could prevent you achieving your goal, imagine a remote control and mentally press the buttons as follows. Pause – imagine time has stood still. Fast Forward an hour or a day and see, smell and feel the results of the choice you’re considering. Rewind to the present, and then Fast Forward again using a different choice – is it a better outcome? Rewind to the present and determine the action to take. Then press Play and get on with your life.
If you start to associate a habit with something unpleasant, your brain no longer feels reward and you’ll be less likely to want to do it. You might even start to actively dislike whatever you’re trying to avoid. Place a rubber band around your wrist and whenever you develop the urge to eat a doughnut, go to the burger van, smoke or pick your nose, ping the band telling yourself to stop. You’ll soon start to associate the bad habit with an unwelcome sensation, which can help stop cravings.
Find Your New Path
When attempting to break a habit, just stopping doesn’t work. A habit is a well-worn path in your brain and to counteract it you need a new path. If you’re aiming to stop drinking but you’re still going to go to the pub or parties, your new pathway means finding a new drink to order. Make a list of drinks you might enjoy – and take your list out with you. Avoiding the pub? Then your list is activities you can do instead. Make the biggest list you can so that when you’re tempted, you have other options in place.
Quit Alcohol (For A Month) by Helen Foster is out now, RRP £7.99 (Vermilion), buy on amazon.co.uk