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Bad Habits and How to Break Them

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Bad Habits and How to Break Them

Let’s admit it, we’ve all had bad habits we struggled to break before. Things that we know we shouldn’t be doing but consistently find ourselves doing. You know, like the thing that just popped into your head?

These habits decrease our productivity, worsen our health and ultimately hold us back in life. This could be smoking cigarettes, overeating, biting your nails and my (least) favorite, procrastinating. I’m going to focus on procrastinating in this article because, like I mentioned, it’s my (least) favorite.

Charles Duhigg wrote an entire book on habits and has a true understanding of them. He explains how MIT researchers outlined three parts of a loop that every bad habit encompasses:

1. Cue

This is the beginning of your bad habit loop. This is the thing that gives you the idea to perform your bad habit. The cue gets you started.

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There’s a reason you smoke cigarettes, overeat and bite your nails. Something causes you to stop what you’re doing and say, “Hey, I could really use a cigarette right now.”

I’m going to talk from experience and my personal bad habit of procrastination. I’m self-aware enough to realize what causes me to procrastinate and that’s the first step. Let’s say that I’m writing an article and don’t know how to begin it, I get frustrated and figure that procrastinating might help me out. If I can’t figure it out within approximately thirty seconds, I convince myself that doing something else is a better use of my time.

Deciphering the origin of your bad habits is critical in ending them.

2. Routine

The second step in this loop is the routine of you actually performing your technique. This is the cigarette smoking, nail biting and overeating. This is what allows you to cope with whatever you’re dealing with.

In my situation, this is me playing with my dog, scrolling through Instagram and deciding it’s finally time to do laundry. While these aren’t necessarily bad habits on their own, the procrastination of completing something is my problem. Some people do harm to themselves with their bad habits like smoking cigarettes and overeating which is technically a worse habit but I may be trying to make myself feel better about mine.

Sometimes, we don’t even love the actual bad habits that we have but it gives us a…

3. Reward

The final component of the MIT researchers’ loop, the reward is why we have bad habits to begin with. This is the satisfaction of pulling a cigarette, the calmness that you feel when you bite your nails and the pleasure of biting into a Twinkie (they’re still around, right?). Many don’t love their actual routines, but instead how it makes them feel.

For me, those ten minutes of not worrying about completing the article I started is why I’ve always procrastinated. It allows me to forget about the task at hand and focus on something less important in the macro like seeing the latest vacation pictures from Cindy on Instagram. However, when I come back to my desk and still see the blinking cursor, it ultimately did me no good.

Now that we’ve covered the three stages of a bad habit loop, it’s time to fix it.

The simplicity of the solution doesn’t mean it’s easy, there’s a reason they became habits to begin with. As you now know, the cue is what starts the cycle of your bad habits. If you attack the problem at its’ source, you have a better chance of fixing it.

Have you noticed smokers are given gum, nicotine patches and other alternatives to smoking instead of someone telling them to quit cold turkey? It’s because the cues will always be there so it’s almost impossible to stop something if the opportunity is there. This is why you have to replace your routine with something else so that you can get through your situation.

For example, instead of biting your nails every time you’re nervous, try drinking a glass of water. Not only will you stop doing harm to yourself, but you’re replacing a negative with a positive in replenishing your body.

Once you know your bad habit and what the cue to it is, you can replace the routine with something else and lessen the severity of it.

What bad habits are you trying to break? Do you know the cue that starts the loop? Sound off in the comments!


The Owner of Proprietor Lifestyle, Steven is an entrepreneur from New York. He's in an abusive relationship with the New York Knicks and is always looking to connect with other like-minded millennials.

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