How to break a habit?

If you want to improve your life, then one of the first things you should take into consideration is to stop and break up your bad habits! Statistically, more than 70% of smokers, drug addicts, and alcohol abusers say they want badly to quit and give up their addictions that are killing them slowly and quietly. On the other hand, many of us are shouldering unhealthy habits that we can kick out if we only keep up with a healthy program. So, why can’t we just stop or change these habits?


In definition terms, habits are actions and things we do on a regular basis either knowingly or unknowingly, either way, they keep us going on when we are low motivated. Going out with friends every evening, having coffee after lunch, or taking a shower every morning. These all are habits we have developed over time by repetition. As a matter of fact, our lives are made up of habits, good ones, and bad ones. And this is a normal thing that gives us an advantage; having a habit means you won’t have to think about an activity when performing it, and that frees the brain and gives it more space to think about and create other activities. Actually, that’s why some habits are just difficult to kick once have been in existence and exercised for a long time and therefore recognized and generally accepted as a normal part of life. But when something is threatening our physical or mental health, coming up with a solution to treat the matter becomes a priority. 


Researches have shown that the mechanism by which we build habits_ both good ones like going to work without paying attention to the details on your way there, and bad ones such as overeating while watching TV_ is the same. Generally, when a behavior or an action triggers the brain reward center, the latter builds a connection between the said behavior and pleasure and that’s how most of what we know as bad habits are built. We all have heard of how enjoyable habits or acts cause your brain to release a chemical known as Dopamine, and this type of habit that is based on pleasure by releasing Dopamine is the hardest to quit and that’s because Dopamine was there when you did it a couple of times, and when you are not doing it, Dopamine creates the yearning to do it. That’s another thing we have in common with animals which explains why your pets will come searching for you once they hear you open a food can, and why birds keep coming to the same place where people treat them with grains. 


Now we know all this, how to quit? Well, humans are much better than other animals when it comes to changing and orienting our behavior toward long-term goals. Still though, resisting temptation for a long time gets one’s will to continue in doing so drained and weak temporarily, which makes things a bit harder over time. But the good news is this; we still can replace a habit with another one and by practicing the new habit, your self-control strengthens day by day. Actually, self-control is like a muscle and by exercising it, it starts getting a new and stronger shape. Even though things might be a bit tricky, for example, some habits are already linked to some places or maybe to a smell or a voice, that’s not something to worry about. In fact, you can trick your brain back instead of letting it manipulate you (look at it this way) and that can be done by becoming more aware of your unhealthy habits and by some observations, you can figure out what’s triggering these habits and acts and start avoiding it. For example, you can stop accompanying your smoker friends for a while or by avoiding going around places where you used to do these habits. 


By observing yourself and by using these observations to develop the right strategy, you can replace bad habits with healthy ones. The average time to break a habit is 20 to 200 days; it depends on how strong and confident you are. It won’t be done overnight, but by practicing and repetition, you’ll find, one day, how big the change you have brought into your life is. It’s hard to be done, but never impossible. 


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