How to break out of bad habits and replace them with good ones

Let’s face it, being under quarantine and not having access to facilities where we can move and enjoy sports is not a good prerequisite to keep up healthy routines. Spending most of our time at home, where we have the comfort, the privacy and time can easily trigger building behavior patterns that can accumulate towards weight gain, decrease of strength and overall decrease of well-being.

We know that the environment plays a major role in what kind of actions we take. Having a fridge full of food and snacks right next to us obviously promotes eating. Working right next to your bed encourages you to lie down when you feel tired. Compare this to an environment such as your office or a café as your workplace, where those things are simply inaccessible to you.

But before we can break out of bad habits, we need to understand how habits form to begin with. Once you understand the process, you know how and when you can interfere to break the pattern.

Habits works in 3 parts. Each part is triggering the next one resulting in an endless cycle, unless we do something about it. This is called a habit loop and works for both good habits and bad ones. The following principles are based on the book: “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, a recommended read if you want to dig deeper into the psychology behind habits.

1. "The Reminder" Let’s take the habit of unhealthy snacking in front of the computer, which is an example of a habit that many people are struggling with right now and want to avoid. According to the "habit loop" theory, all habits starts with a reminder or trigger, that will immediately spark the desire to perform the habitual action. In our example, that could be simply sitting down in front of the computer and feeling a bit hungry or having snacks easily accessible in your cupboards.

2. "The Routine"

Because you were just reminded and "triggered", your desire to take action and have a sugary snack is now prominent in your mind. The circumstances are making it easy and attractive for you to go for that chocolate bar or cookies, or whatever else you have at home.

3. "The Reward" This is probably the most powerful part of the habit loop. This is what you have actually been craving for. It is not the action of having the snack, it’s the sensation that you enjoy through that. You may enjoy the taste, the feel or just the sense of de-stress is gives you to snack while perhaps feeling a bit stressed or bored. Whatever it might be, you adore that feeling and you will produce a craving every time you will get triggered again. And now you are in the loop.

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The question is; How can I interfere to escape this continuous pattern? The answer is that we need to invert the building blocks of your habit loop.

This is how it can look like;

1. "The Reminder (Inverted)" If the snacks are visually reminding you and easily accessible, the first thing you need to do is to make them harder to access and see. Out of sight out of mind! Don't keep snacks at home, hide it in a place where you never look or keep them sealed in a container to make them less accessible (this is surprisingly effective). Plan your grocery shopping beforehand, and ask your partner or family to support you in keeping temptations away. Keep the reminder away from your path as much as possible.

2. "The Routine" (Inverted) In case you are already triggered, ask yourself how you can make the action as hard and as unattractive as possible? Try creating rules such as never eat while being distracted (watching TV, playing with your phone or working) and remind yourself how much money you could save by not snacking by putting money each day in a jar that you avoid snacking (and save it for a future holiday or to buy something you wish to have). 3. "The Reward" (Inverted) The reward is the part what really satisfies you. If you want to get rid of your habit you need to find ways to make it unsatisfying. It will leave you with a feeling not worth carving for the next time. If you could manage to make the action unattractive, it consequently will leave you unsatisfied. At this point try to look for alternatives that would give you a similar reward. That could be taking a break from work and to enjoy a cup of green tea or to simply go for a walk to clear your mind. Planning your work breaks might be a good thing to do as it will lower the risk of mindlessly snacking and of course it will help to have healthy food habits in general.

Come up with a strategy on how to you can manipulate your habit loop. Leave no stone unturned until you found permanent change. Think about what a positive transition will do for you in the long run. A couple of these adjustments can skyrocket your health and well-being, which will have immediate effect on all other areas of your life.

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About the author

Lothar Markert is a German native, his mom is Korean, a former national team Taekwondo athlete and he has lived in Bangkok since 2017. He is currently the Operations Manager at HAUS No3 and the eminent host of the widely popular public speaking event HAUS Talks.

You can learn more about Lothar here.