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How To Break Bad Habits: Neuroscience’s Amazing Take

When you break bad habits, you have the power to revamp your life!

Habits are behaviours that have been so hard-wired into the brain, that you can perform them without putting much thought into them. Have you ever wondered why the brain, this brilliant and adaptable organ, finds it so hard to break habits?

Let’s learn about how habits form. Knowledge is power, so by understanding the neuroscience behind habits, we can also learn how to break the habits that hold us back.

What is a Habit?

The brain wires thoughts, emotions and behaviours into circuits below the surface where they become automated. Habits save your brain a lot of time since they allow your brain to do automated actions without intervening. For example, if you have a habit of checking your phone, you might have noticed that you pick your phone up without actually thinking about it. Habits allow your brain to work on autopilot. During our lives, we accumulate a lot of habits. Some habits we consider good, like brushing our teeth as soon as we wake up, or washing our hands before cooking. Some habits are commonly considered bad, like biting nails. As shocking as this may sound, most habits are just neutral, but we add labels to them.

Regardless of this, all habits have a few distinct features:

  1. Habits are triggered by an event or cue.

  2. They are learned over time by repeating things

  3. They are performed with little conscious awareness

  4. They are persistent, so once it is formed, they are hard to break.

How To Use Neuroscience to Break Bad Habits Since we know habits are triggered by cues that are hard to break once formed, to break bad habits we must recognize what triggers certain habits and then create a positive habit to replace the bad-habit trigger. For example during stressful situations, you may have a habit of biting your nails. Once you recognize the trigger (stress), you can replace the habit with playing with a stress ball.

You can only replace a bad habit once you’re aware of what situations cause it!

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