Understanding your bad habits can help you break them

Holly New

I have a habit of trying to start my columns with a catchy introduction.

Our lives are full of habits. However, not all habits are bad. Simple things like brushing your teeth when you wake up or washing your hands when you use the restroom are considered habits, and good ones, at that. It’s the bad ones, like overeating and procrastination, that can get you into hot water.

But where to habits come from?

A study in a January Psychology Today article by Sam Sommers, made the point that habits are often a product of context. We engage in certain habits because of the situation we are in.

I can relate to this. I know I drink too much soda at work only because it’s free of charge. If my boss were to charge me for soda, my consumption would not be as high.

The tip is to change your environment in a way that will prevent the negative habit from occurring. “Anything you can do to disrupt your automatic response to your surroundings can be beneficial,” Sommers wrote.

People can also develop habits—and even addictions—to items that alter how a person feels. Drugs, self-harm and food addictions can all fall under this category. If a person gets a positive reaction to a substance or activity, he or she is likely to engage in the behavior again.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “research has shown that people generally take drugs to either feel good (i.e., sensation seekers or anyone wanting to experiment with feeling high or different) or to feel better (i.e., self-medicators or individuals who take drugs in an attempt to cope with difficult problems or situations, including stress, trauma, and symptoms of mental disorders).”

Anyone who has tried to break a habit knows that the road to success is not easy. But if changing the context or quitting cold turkey isn’t enough to end the bad habit, just try to understand it.

According to a January 2012 edition of News In Health, “one approach is to focus on becoming more aware of your unhealthy habits. Then develop strategies to counteract them.”

Basically, by understanding the cause and triggers of your bad habit, you can gain more control over the habit.

If you know you snack excessively when watching TV, you can find other activities to do instead of snacking, like reading a book or learning to knit.

Sometimes simply having another activity occupy your time is enough to prevent falling into old habits.

What we must remember, no matter the habit, are the words of advice columnist Abigail Van Buren: “A bad habit never disappears miraculously; it’s an undo-it-yourself project.”