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How to Break Bad Habits

October 5, 2016 | by Bluma Gordon

Know your triggers and desired outcome, and replace your negative response with a more constructive alternative.

Most of us sincerely want to improve for the better this New Year. We want to stop taking our personal stresses out on our children. We want to start living healthier, more productive lives. We want to break destructive patterns of thought.

But change is so difficult, partially because much of our negative behavior has become deeply ingrained habit. And the process of teshuvah (repentance) often involves uprooting behavior that has become second nature to us. However, since change ultimately relies on the choices we make, we can become better empowered to face to take the necessary steps to improve­ and prevail.

According to James Clear, author of Transform Your Habits, in order for our minds to work as efficiently as possible, they are programmed to develop neurological pathways which prompt routine behavior. Even the most complex behaviors can be broken down into a series of simple habits. With enough determination, it is possible to break the habit pattern and transform negative habits into positive ones.

Here are some self-coaching questions you should ask yourself before knuckling nasty, old habits.

1. What triggers my habit?

According to James Clear, every ingrained habit is preceded by a trigger or cue, followed by the habitual behavior, and then ending with a reward.

Triggers can be external or internal, from a negative emotion causing you to overeat to a comfortable beanbag chair that prompts you to surf Facebook far too long. By getting rid of a trigger, you are beginning to nip the negative behavior in the bud. So choose not to sit on the couch with your computer after dinner if that will trigger the too-much-time-on-Facebook-habit. Choose not to hang out on Sundays with the friends who trigger the negativity and gossip that you so badly want to avoid.

2. Why do I find the habit rewarding?

As quoted in the book, Transfom your Habits, studies have shown that human beings like having reasons for what they do even if those reasons aren’t logical. We develop habits because we have subconsciously convinced ourselves that the behavior is rewarding.

Give yourself a little pep-talk and ask yourself why your mind finds the negative behavior rewarding. Remind yourself why you want to change and why refraining from the behavior will be even more rewarding. You tend to overeat when you're feeling low? Prod yourself on how even if it will give you a momentary high, it will ultimately put you even more down.

3. What positive replacement behavior can I engage in?

Consciously replace the undesired action following the trigger with a more productive response. For example, instead of yelling at your kids every time they steal your cell phone, take 10 deep breaths. Instead of grabbing a cigarette every time your stress levels are on the rise, do something that you know relaxes you.

4. Where can I find a support system?

A transformational journey is much easier when shared with friends and doubly hard when it’s rejected by those we love. Become aware of the support system that you have or lack. Look out for those who will encourage you on your journey to change, and learn of ways to become empowered over those who don't.

5. What will I do in the face of failure?

Many of us are capable of thriving and climbing­ when things are going well, but as soon as there is a bump in the road, we slide down the ladder we have so tediously climbed. Anticipate setbacks. Mentally prepare yourself to handle obstacles so that you'll overcome them and they won't overcome you.

Change isn’t easy. But with enough motivation, hard work, and determination, even the seemingly impossible can be done. May we all have a sweet new year of positive transformation.

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