How to Break Unhealthy Habits for Good
Can’t watch the game without a bag of potato chips? Rearrange your living room.
Always reach for a second helping? Buy new dishes.
Seem strange? That’s the goal.
How to break unhealthy habits? The key is disruption.
Shaking up your routine removes neurological cues that trigger routine behavior. But it’s not always so easy. Bad eating habits are some of the hardest to break. Fatty, salty and sugary foods create especially strong pleasure and reward patterns. But don’t beat yourself up. Habits are intrinsically easy to form and hard to break.
We’re neurologically wired this way to help us multitask. When we repeat certain routines – driving a car is a great example – the brain moves this action from the prefrontal cortex – where conscious decision making happens – to the basal ganglia. Once the basal ganglia takes over, the prefrontal cortex enters sleep mode. We’re able to accelerate, brake, and navigate all while holding a conversation (and a latte…and a sandwich…). Multitasking is possible because the basal ganglia is on autopilot.
While this is great for your morning commute, it’s not so great when you regularly reach for that breakroom muffin. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit assures, “It’s never too late to break a habit.” He explained in an NPR interview: “Habits are malleable throughout your entire life…the best way to change [them] is to understand the structure.”
He illustrates habit-formation in a three step process:
-The cue: the trigger or craving
-The routine: acting out the behavior habitually
-The reward: positive response in the brain that reinforces behavior
Once you’re conscious of this “habit loop” you can pinpoint the behaviors that reinforce it. Changing your environment destabilizes the whole chain of events, “because all your old cues and all your old rewards aren’t there anymore,” Duhigg says.
New environments create new cues for healthier habits. This is why a new couch arrangement can curb chip eating, or new dinner plates could encourage smaller, proper portion sizes. So next time you crave those Ruffles, it’s time to feng shui the salon. Those potato chips won’t stand a chance.
Our own bio-hack expert Mark Moschel shares his techniques for forming new habits in this amazing post.