The Key to Breaking Old Habits

Please note that this post is not a replacement or alternative to professional help. Please seek professional help and support for ending behaviors connected with addiction.

If you want to stop biting your nails or want to stop checking your Instagram every other minute, you’re not alone.

Breaking habits that we have had for years can be incredibly challenging. Our habits become so second-nature to us that sometimes the sheer thought of getting rid of them feels like our entire world has been shifted. Unfortunately, a lot of us have habits that aren’t positively contributing to our health and well-being. In fact, some of our habits may be hurting us.

When it comes to wanting to break a habit, it helps to think about how your habit came to be. Most of our habits start out with purpose.

Let’s look at a really common habit that a lot of folks have: eating fast food.

woman in brown classic trench coat eating mcdo fries during daytime

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Reflect on how your habit, like eating fast food, came to be and what purposes it serves. Let’s say that eating fast food was: incredibly convenient, easy to consume, low-cost and delicious. Grabbing a meal without needing to leave your car was helpful for your busy, time-sensitive schedule and for curing those hunger pains.

At first, these purposes are what drove you to slide through that drive-thru when your schedule was busy and when you were hungry. Then, as time went by, the “purposeful” behavior used to help save time becameĀ a repetitive, unconscious behavior that you used over and over again. When you had time to cook or weren’t super hungry, you found yourself on auto-pilot right back in front of the glowing drive-thru window.

Hence, a habit is born.

Many of our habits, especially our unhealthy ones, start off as coping mechanisms and shift into maladaptive behaviors. These unhealthy habits are formed when they are used often, repeatedly and unconsciously.

When we recognize how our habits are formed, we can better see that the key to breaking old habits is intentionality.

Shifting our mindset from zombie-walking through our habits can truly help us change our behavior and adapt more meaningful practices.

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To interrupt your pattern of using a bad habit, start an intentional practice:

  1. Reflect on what needs your old habit is fulfilling.
  2. Explore other, (healthier, positive, supportive, guilt-free . . .) practices to meet your needs.
  3. Intentionally replace the old habit with the new practice.
  4. Repeat if/when you notice your old habit showing up.

As with many of our self-care practices, know that this work may take some time. The habits that you have leaned on have served you in many ways. You may even feel attached and comforted by them.

Check-in with yourself on how this habit is contributing or taking from your life and create measurable, simple ways to change it. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day! So the ‘cold turkey’ approach doesn’t have to work for everyone. Go at your pace and connect to the supports you need to make changes.

What do you believe the key is to breaking old habits?




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