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5 tips for breaking bad habits

Julia Park
Eating chips while on computer

If only breaking and building
habits was as easy as voicing your commitment. Unfortunately, anyone who’s tried breaking “bad” habits or creating new “good” habits knows, this is easier said than done.

Let's be honest. We usually know when we're doing something we shouldn't be doing (like our guilty habits). We make an effort to change them, but we usually don't quite pull it off. 

Despite many wanting to form new habits, research suggests only about half of us succeed in our resolutions. Why only half? It’s because changing habits isn’t a question of willpower. Habits are actually complex cycles of cues, behaviors, and rewards that make it hard to create a new habit loop.

But here's the thingall habits are bad; things are great in moderation. Eating junk food isn't bad in moderation, but when all you are eating is junk food and it's impacting your health, then you may want to examine or change this habit so you don't get sick.

If you're struggling to overcome bad habits that are leading you to procrastination, stress, and poor health, then keep reading! We have some great tips on how you can break unwanted habits, including how Muse, the brain-sensing headbands, can help you get out of the loop.

Why is it hard to break bad habits?

Whether you want to eat less junk food, stop biting your nails, or scroll through social media less, breaking unwanted habits is difficult. This is because the addictive part of habits isn’t the behavior itself. It’s the reward that the behavior elicits that makes us keep going back for more.

To understand why habits are so hard to break, first, let’s look at how habits form.

Habits are typically learned in three stages: Trigger, behavior, and reward.

For example, a trigger could look like seeing a notification pop up on social media (cue). This might prompt you to stop what you’re doing and head onto the social media platform (behavior). Seeing a message, comment, or like from someone triggers a small but potent dopamine rush in our brains (reward).

Our brains are designed to seek out positive and pleasurable experiences and to avoid painful and uncomfortable ones. So when we experience a positive reward for something we did, our brains remember that action and seek opportunities to repeat it. If we repeat an action enough times, it becomes a habit.

5 easy ways to break a habit

If you’ve been working to break a certain habit and are feeling low on hope, don’t give up! Mentally preparing yourself for the long term is key to breaking habits and building new ones. 

1. Replace old habits with new habits

When breaking a habit, it’s far easier to give yourself something new than focusing on “not” doing something. For example, try to “not” think about your favorite food… The first thing that pops into your head is your favorite food, right? Instead, replace an old habit with something new!

Let’s say you want to stop biting your nails. Every time you feel the impulse, try snapping a rubber band on your wrist instead. This way, you still “satisfy the itch” without falling back into your old habits.

If your goal is to develop better or change habits this year, take a listen to our latest episode on our Untangle Podcast. The NYT’s bestselling author and happiness expert, Gretchen Rubin, shares tips and tricks to build new habits with ease.

2. Become more mindful of habit cues and reward values

Mindfulness is an essential practice that can help you become more aware of your triggers and how rewarding your habit truly is. Once we become aware of our triggers, we empower ourselves to choose how we respond. 

A common trigger for many is stress. Once we can recognize the habits that stress prompts, we can choose to replace those habits with better-coping mechanisms.

Additionally, it can be beneficial to explore the actual value of the reward we receive from our habits. We often imagine the habit is more rewarding than it is. For instance, we might overeat or overspend when we get stressed. While the act might make us feel more in control for a moment, consider what this habit feels like. Does it make you feel better? 

Becoming more mindful of our actual experience can help decrease the value we attach to certain habits and make it easier to break them.

Three men talking to each other

3. Tell a friend for accountability and support

When doing something on our own, it’s easy to throw in the towel and give up. Enlisting the help of someone you trust as an accountability partner can lend you the support you need to see your habit change through to the end.

Even if your friend isn’t trying to change a habit themselves, someone who can send you reminders and encouragement can make a world of difference.

Here at Muse, we host a monthly meditation challenge, joined by hundreds of meditation fans (Muse users and non-Muse users) around the world. It’s a great way to establish a meditation routine, stay accountable, and challenge yourself to try something new. 

Join us in our next meditation challenge and build mindful habits!

4. Prioritize stress-reduction

Stress significantly hampers decision-making by causing our prefrontal cortex, vital for this function, to go offline. 

To effectively manage stress and nurture healthier habits, integrate stress-relieving practices into your routine—exercise, choose nutritious foods, stay hydrated, and get adequate sleep

To elevate your stress management, try Muse mindfulness wearables, boasting an impressive 92% accuracy in detecting perceived stress. These EEG headsets act as personal meditation coaches, analyzing your brain activity and providing real-time feedback. Muse is an effective, user-friendly tool to reduce stress; even 77% of users reported improved stress control with Muse

Proactively managing stress not only supports mental wellbeing but also empowers you to build and sustain positive habits for a healthier, more balanced life.

5. Prepare for slip-ups and give it time

The truth is, we all have slip-ups. Especially when it comes to falling back into old habits, but this is good news it means that you don’t have to worry if you have a slip-up! Instead of dwelling or ruminating on it, consider just how much work you’ve done and how successful you’ve been! You haven’t failed. You just had a momentary bump in the road and can get right back on track if you choose. 

As we’ve said before, building habits takes time – be patient and kind with yourself. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. We’re all works in progress, so love yourself, trust that you can achieve any goal you set your mind to, and give yourself time.

Have you seen our latest 'Breaking Habits' video? Follow us on TikTok and Instagram for more brain tips! 🧠

@choosemuse A quick tip to help you break free of an unwanted habit 🚫 #dailyhabits #braintraining ♬ Sleepmode - Official Sound Studio


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