How to Kick Habits and Start New Ones
January 24, 2020
Everyone has habits they do like and habits they don't like. You may feel lost if you don't go to the gym three days a week or you may be a nail biter.
Everyone has habits they do like and habits they don't like. You may feel lost if you don't go to the gym three days a week or you may be a nail biter. Whether you are trying to kick an old habit or start a new habit the method is the same, and it all boils down to psychology. Yes, there really is a reason for all of the things you do. In psychology habits and how to break them are akin to Pavlov and his drooling dogs. Every action has a trigger and every trigger has a response. The key to kicking habits or making new ones is identifying the trigger.
This idea is easiest to explain with the analogy of nail-biting, as it is one of the most common habits (especially among women) and also one of the hardest to kick. Sit down and stare at your nails. Are they perfect? Did you just get a manicure? Are they chipped or broken? Or are they simply too long? Some of the most common triggers for nail-biting are perfectionism and anxiety. Try to think back to the last time you felt compelled to bite your nails. Was it because they were broken or rough? If the answer is yes, then your trigger is perfectionism. This is the easiest trigger to redirect because there are several cures. Keeping your hands manicured or carrying a file to correct minor mistakes may be all it takes to keep your hands out of your mouth. If you bite your nails because of anxiety however, there could be multiple triggers. These triggers could be people, places, situation, or just about anything, and they are harder to redirect. Try to think about the first time you started biting your nails. Did you start because of a presentation? Is it your mother or a crush? Identifying the source or trigger is the first step to kicking the habit. Anxiety induced habits may be harder to kick, but they are not impossible. By identifying your trigger you can attempt to either overcome your anxiety with the help of a mental health professional or simply remove yourself from the situation.
If you are attempting to start a habit however, you must first create a trigger. Almost everyone has heard of clicker training a dog, but people can also be clicker trained. The simplest example of this is training yourself to smile more or to be happier. If every time you felt happy or smiled you heard a clicker then over time your mind would become tuned to respond to the trigger. If you did this for months (it usually takes 3 months for a new habit to be ingrained) then you might find that any noise resembling a clicker made you feel happier. While this is not a foolproof method and will not cure issues like depression, the point is clear. By conditioning your mind and body to respond a specific way to specific stimuli you can create a new habit. Another example of this is when you listen to the same song first thing when you go to the gym and then months later you hear the song elsewhere and find yourself suddenly full of energy.
Whether we do it intentionally or not, the human mind and body is conditioned to respond to triggers. By harnessing this capacity to stop smoking or start eating better or whatever your bad habit may be, you can take control of your habits. If you feel that your habits are more intense or borderline on compulsions, please reach out to a mental health professional as you may need additional help curbing these behaviors.