Have you ever asked, “Why do we develop habits?” Turning Point Psychology’s registered psychologist, Lorraine Aldridge, says the answer is simple: to save energy and effort.

“When we can rely on autopilot to get us through certain tasks, it frees up our brainpower to focus on other things,” says Lorraine. “The problem arises when bad habits affect our health negatively or get us into trouble.”

How are habits formed?

We form habits through a process of reinforcement. In other words, the more we do something, the more likely we will do it again. Why? Our brains naturally crave efficiency and predictability. For example, when we receive a reward (through positive reinforcement), our brains associate that behaviour with pleasure. Pretty soon, we’re doing it without even thinking about it. One example is snacking while watching television.

The exact process also works in reverse for negative reinforcement. If a punishment (e.g. pain, embarrassment or other adverse consequence) is associated with a particular behaviour, our brains associate that behaviour with displeasure. Eventually, we avoid that behaviour altogether because it’s too unpleasant. 

“For compulsive nail biters, applying anti-biting polish is a good example of negative reinforcement,” says Lorraine. “The brain starts associating the nail-biting with an unpleasant taste, helping to break the habit.”  

Breaking bad habits

Breaking bad habits is possible, but it’s not always easy. Too often, we convince ourselves that making a change requires massive action (and discomfort.) We put pressure on ourselves to make earth-shattering improvements that get everyone talking. But small changes can lead to big results over time.

“I’m always encouraging my clients that if they make small improvements each week by the end of 10 sessions, six months or one year, they’ve changed their life for the better.”

Lorraine Aldridge - Turning Point Psychology

Lorraine’s tips for breaking a bad habit

Bidding farewell to bad habits can be pretty challenging, but it’s far from impossible. Lorraine believes the key is to ‘stay focused and have a plan in place’.

Take steps towards building new routines, set realistic goals with which you can measure progress, and celebrate each success along your journey.

Why not try Lorraine’s tips and tricks and put yourself on the track for healthy change.

Identify the trigger

1. Identify the trigger

Specific situations or events trigger many bad habits. Pinpointing what causes you to give in to your bad habit can help you anticipate it and plan strategies for avoiding it.

Divert your focus

2. Divert your focus

When a bad habit craving strikes, try distracting yourself with something else instead of giving in. Try substituting with a healthier option, like going for a walk just for a few minutes might be all you need.

Get support

3. Get support

Having friends or family members who understand and encourage your goals helps keep you motivated. Share your plan with them – it’s easier to stay on track when others are cheering for you and keeping you accountable.

Set reasonable goals

4. Set reasonable goals

Don’t try to change everything all at once! Start with small, achievable goals and build your way up from there. Taking small steps will help prevent you from getting overwhelmed or discouraged.

Reward yourself

5. Reward yourself

Acknowledge each success along your journey and reward yourself for it. Having something to look forward to can help keep you motivated and on track.

Conclusion

Breaking a bad habit takes perseverance, but it’s worth it overall. With patience and persistence, you can make lasting changes that will benefit your life.

Of course, it’s always easier said than done, so if you need professional help, don’t hesitate to contact Lorraine at Turning Point Psychology.  

Want to know more?

Visit our Breaking Habits page.

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