Replace Old Habits With New Ones

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Break Your Bad Habits: Here’s How

BY LY HUYNH

A big part of what we do in treatment is to help people identify and replace unhelpful habits – whether that be habits related to how people think about themselves, how they relate to other people, or how they behave in their day to day lives. Change is always possible, but it’s also always easier said than done. So where should you start?

Is your phone use a bad habit you'd like to change?

Is your phone use a bad habit?

Research tells us that consequences play a significant role in determining behaviour. When positive consequences follow a behaviour, that behaviour is reinforced and more likely to occur again. In contrast, if negative consequences follow a behaviour that behaviour is less likely to reoccur. We see this in parenting. If your child leaves the house without making their bed and you give in and make it for them (a positive outcome for your child), your child is more likely to leave their bed unmade on an ongoing basis. If you leave their bed unmade on the other hand, and tell your child that because you found their bed unmade you’d like them to wash and dry the dishes after dinner, your child is less likely to offer a repeat performance.

The same principles apply for all behaviour. Let’s say your boss sets you an unrealistic deadline and you stay back late every night for a week to meet it. If at the end of that week your boss showers you with praise and offers you an important opportunity at work, you’re more likely to work overtime again in the future, and if the praise continues, your overtime will become a habit. If your efforts are ignored though, or your boss criticises minor errors in your work, chances are you won’t go out of your way to help next time.

If you want to break a bad habit, the first question you need to ask yourself is – how is my habit being reinforced? Are there any positive consequences associated with my bad habit? Does my bad habit help me to avoid any negative consequences? When I’m successful in breaking my habit, does this get reinforced?

Basically, you want to avoid reinforcing your bad habits, and make sure you reinforce your new helpful habit when it happens. Do something nice for yourself when you have success, have a bubble bath, get a massage, organise brunch with friends, watch a movie. And when you’re not successful, try to avoid inadvertently reinforcing your bad habit.

Breaking habits is a gradual process, but with repeated practice and persistence, you can let go of bad habits and form new ones.

Ly is a genuine and compassionate psychologist who is dedicated to providing adults and adolescents with a supportive, safe, and structured environment in which to make sense of their difficulties and take charge of their lives. She is committed to tailoring evidence-based treatments to each individual, and enjoys working collaboratively to help clients develop skills and self-knowledge to bring about meaningful and lasting change.


 

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