How to break bad habits or addictions with a simple trick?

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit – Aristotle

Every night for the last few months, I used to crawl into my bed and open my iPad to binge on something. This had become such an autopilot activity, it was seamless. I had no control and many a time I was up until 1 AM. My morning routine took a big hit due to this.

I made a subtle change a few weeks back. Every time I used my iPad, I switched it off and kept it in a drawer in the other room. I also put my Kindle on the bedside table. In a couple of weeks, I have drastically cut down on my iPad time.

Human minds are designed to work on autopilot for day-to-day tasks and habits play an important role to achieve this. So it’s vital that we nurture the good ones and cut down the bad ones.


The Habit Loop

To completely comprehend how the habits are formed, we need to first understand how the Habit Loop works.

In his book – The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do and how to change, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Charles Duhigg, explains that any habit, is formed and continued in 3 stages:

Cue, Routine & Reward.

You have to understand these 3 things for your habit. For example, whenever you get bored, you pick up your phone and browse Instagram. The Cue here is getting bored and the Routine is browsing Instagram. Finally, the Reward is a novelty of connecting with your friends or the sudden rush of dopamine to your brain.

And the more and more you do this, the more autopilot and seamless it becomes. Finally, a loop is formed and it keeps on continuing unless you intervene or bring in a change to one of the 3 things. Of course, multiple other factors determine how stronger your habit becomes, but the core idea remains the same.

The Path of Least Resistance

Now that we have understood how the habit loop works, to cut down a habit, we need to bring changes to the routine. But it’s easier said than done. Many research shows that some of the habits are so ingrained in our daily lives, they would have become almost second nature.

To bring in an effective change, we must make this routine harder and bring more friction in between. We need to utilize the concept of the path of least resistance.

The chances of you not doing something over and over are high if there are more obstacles to carrying out that action. For example, you want to browse less social media, remove the apps from your smartphone or keep it in your App Library and give a complex passcode. Every time you feel like opening it on your smartphone, it would not be available on the Home Screen and you have to enter a complex passcode. What you are essentially doing, is creating obstacles to do a task. Pretty soon you will see a drop in your social media browsing.

Author James Clear in his famous book, The Atomic Habits gives several practical examples on how to create obstacles and how this affects our habits.  Want to spend less time watching TV? Remove the plug from the TV every time and remove the battery cells from the remote. The pain of arranging everything to watch the TV is far more now and we invariably avoid going through this chore.

The main point is once you have identified a bad habit, try and make the routine harder. Our minds try to ignore the tasks which have a lot of obstacles in their path. If you keep doing this for an extended period, soon the habit starts to weaken and you can think of introducing a good one in its place.

Old habits won’t bring New results – Anonymous

Habits form an important framework in our daily lives. The more good habits we cultivate, the more enriching our lives will be. With the new year underway, there’s no better time to cut down the bad habits that have crept into your lives.

The next time you want to get rid of a bad habit – remember to use this simple trick.

About the author

Bharath Sirgur

I am an IT professional by the day and a blogger at night. I am interested in personal development and motivational topics.

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