I have a habit to break in a big way, so never have I been as focused on the science of habit breaking as I am right this moment. I’m masterful at changing a routine (a pattern of behavior) and I am awesome at organizing and scheduling… but when it comes to the full cycle of an addictive habit, I have no idea where to begin.
I have been biting my nails for about, oh, my whole life, and now it has to stop. I won’t even wear rings and sit on my hands in meetings. Its not a good thing. So, where to begin to unravel a really deeply-ingrained habit?
Some interesting ideas about habits and how to break them:
1. Its unclear how long it takes to make or break a habit. Some suggest it takes 21 or 28 days to create or un-create a pattern. No one has even really proven this as a standard for every addictive behavior. Some suggest it is 60 days to create a new habit. No matter the length of time, most agree that there is decisive action needed to break a habit.
2. Awareness is key. An addictive habit has a three part cycle- a cue or trigger, the actual behavior and the reward for the behavior. Many researchers say that once you become aware of your triggers, as well as the rewards you crave in the cycle of behavior, it becomes easier to tackle the issue.
3. There are many “flavors” of behavioral change. Dr. BJ Fogg is my Stanford University hero of behavior change, and I am so upset that I am not studying with him right this moment! His Behavior Grid is amazing because it shows the nuances in behavioral switches. For instance, you can swear off a behavior for a set amount of time “Span Behavior” or you can decide to take a step in a new direction with an action, like a one-time donation to a cause “Dot Behavior”, etc, etc. When you see this grid you realize that there are many different gradients of behavioral change, and its not always all-or-nothing. Fascinating. Helpful.
4. Changing your environment helps changing habits. In Charles Huhigg’s book “The Power Of Habit” he writes about how vacations are the best time to break habits, because the cues in your environment are not there to reinforce your habits.
5. Trying to suppress behavior seems to only make the desire intensify. Jeremy Dean, author of “Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick” explained in the New York Times: “You can’t totally eradicate old patterns of behavior. What you can do is replace them with new ones. The research suggests that the best strategy is to replace a bad old habit with a good new one.”
From all of the above I see that I need to be in this habit switch for the long haul. Mine is not a one-shot deal, its an actual commitment to change. I have to know what triggers my bad habit of nail-biting (too much tea, hunger, and for some reason, typing on a computer all tend to trigger me!). I am in the process of moving, so bonus points for changing my environment! I think I am going to work with snacks beside me in an orange bowl (orange= healthy, attractive warm) from now on while I write, an environmental “switch” that I think can help! Now, maybe I can find some sort of hand reflexology to do when I am thinking of biting my nails? I will find something!
Do you have a bad habit to break, too?! I know we can do it! xoxo Dana