Most people want to eliminate bad habits.
They know that a certain negative pattern isn’t good for them and they decide to just stop doing it.
The problem is, most people don’t understand the science behind their habits.
In order to eliminate bad habits, we have to understand not only the way our brains wire habits and put them on autopilot, but also the underlying subconscious beliefs and emotions that have us seeking negative behavior in the first place.
It’s common to hear people refer to their lack of willpower or discipline when I speak to them about their habits. They often feel that they aren’t as disciplined as other people who don’t have their bad habits.
Habits are more heavily influenced by our environment, than by our willpower.
Let’s look at how habits work using the Reminder, Habit, Reward model, so that we can gradually eliminate bad habits.
What is a habit reminder?
A habit reminder (also referred to as a cue or trigger) is something that occurs within your environment that precedes the action of your habit consistently. It’s the thing that acts as a tipping point for you to take your habitual action, be it a positive or negative habit.
The 5 Types of Habit Reminders
- prior action
- specific people
- an emotion
- specific time
An example of a habit reminder would be waking up in the morning. The actions that you consistently take immediately after waking up are triggered, or set in motion, by this time-based habit reminder.
What is a habit?
This one may seem obvious, but it’s important to break your habit down into its 3 components.
- The reminder that sets you into action.
- The actual action is the habit.
- The reward you experience for taking that action.
What is a habit reward?
A habit reward occurs after the action of the habit has occurred. It is a pleasing or positive effect if intrinsic; it can also be an external tangible positive reward.
Here’s where it gets tricky.
When we want to eliminate bad habits, we may be aware of our external environments influence on reminding us to repeat a habit. Yet, we are often unaware of the subconscious reward we are experiencing from repeating that habit.
For example, we may literally feel bad after we eat too much. That certainly doesn’t feel positive or rewarding. So why do we do this to ourselves? What’s the reward?
Habit reminder aside, the intrinsic reward of doing something familiar or something that seemingly helped us cope with—or more than likely ignore—difficult emotions or stress in the past will become our brain’s default action when we are reminded of similar situations/emotions in the future.
Until we can see these patterns and literally own the subconscious’ incorrect storyline about the habit, we will continue to repeat it, again and again—even when it makes us literally feel bad.
How to Eliminate Bad Habits
There’s more than one approach, of course, but I’d like to share the summary of what I’ve learned as a Yoga Health Coach and an avid student of behavioral science and neuroscience.
Bad habits usually don’t fix anything. They start as coping mechanisms. We undertake them because we seek to soothe ourselves and eliminate the uncomfortable emotions or sensations we are experiencing. Of course this doesn’t work, because you have to actually address the environment which actives your habit AND the subconscious reward of the habit to resolve it.
Bad Habits Are Coping, Not Fixing
But the real issue with bad habits is while they scratch the itch, they don’t fix the underlying problem. Being worried about your bills might lead you to check Facebook, but that doesn’t make Mark Zuckerberg pay your mortgage. (Source: Eric Barker of Barking Up The Wrong Tree (weekly update May 28th, 2017 and The Craving Mind)
That certainly makes it hit home, doesn’t it?
What You Need to Eliminate Bad Habits
Our environment—much more than our sense of willpower or discipline—is the primary influencer of our habits.
When we want to eliminate bad habits, we have to put ourselves in an environment that doesn’t support those bad habits. We have to remove the habit reminders.
Sometimes this doesn’t feel possible, especially in the short term. For example, you may know that the workplace you are in doesn’t support healthy food choices or adequate downtime. In the short term, you can’t stop going to work.
What you can do is join a dynamic group that is making similar changes.
Humans are social creatures, and if our immediate environment and social circle don’t support the changes we want to make in our lives, we must find social support elsewhere.
Personally, I’ve never thought of myself as someone who likes to be part of a group. I don’t enjoy most team sports, and I love to spend time on my own and feel in control of my choices.
That being said, one of the most powerful things I’ve done is to join a dynamic group of people who have the beliefs and support for the actions I want to take in the world. I never would have known just how powerful being a member of a dynamic group can be if I’d only read about it. I needed to speak with other people who had experienced success by being a part of it. I needed proof—and even then, I was still a bit skeptical.
Now that I lead my own dynamic group in my online coaching program, Journey to Thrive, I know exactly how critical dynamic groups are to moving people away from their bad habits and into the person that they want to become—the person who has the habits and the subconscious beliefs that allow them to thrive.
Dynamic groups don’t just help us structure our environments for success, they act as objective mirrors that help us uncover the subconscious beliefs and rewards that our conscious mind isn’t aware of, yet.
That’s why we have trouble eliminating bad habits and even adopting good habits on our own. We have trouble seeing our mental blocks because they become a part of our identity and our worldview. It takes others who care enough to get curious about what lies beneath the surface of our consciousness and our external environment.
You Can Reset Your Brain and Habits
The next time you recognize a habit in your life that you’d like to change—even if you don’t necessarily consider it a “bad” one—try this approach. Join a dynamic group that is focused on an evolutionary growth mindset.
A conscious choice to reset your brain will go a long way toward the habits you want to adopt or drop—but the support of a dynamic group will take you to your next level of evolution, helping train you to shift from reacting to responding.
When your group has a unified growth mindset, you’ll find it significantly easier to get to where you want to be, and you will encourage others to reach their goals as well. Together, you and your group will truly thrive.
My sources and further resources for you:
Photo credit: Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦