“Breaking a habit is hard!”
Many gurus paddle this myth because they categorize any consistent behaviour as a habit. But this is incorrect. In order for a behaviour to be a habit, it MUST also be subconscious.
A true test of whether a behaviour is a habit is in how easy it is to break.
Habits are ridiculously easy to break
As long as you have your conscious brain engaged!
When the automated behaviour (habit) happens, and the desired consequence does not eventuate, the brain snaps into the conscious mode, to try and fix the connection.
Take, for example, driving someone else’s car. The first time you park, your hand may automatically reach for the handbrake next to the driver’s seat – because that is where it is located in your car. But, if this car has a push-button handbrake instead, your hand won’t land on the handbrake lever as expected, and your brain will switch to conscious mode to try and find the handbrake.
Before long, the hand-reaching habit will be broken, and a new pressing the button habit will be formed.
Habits are functional; they serve a purpose or the brain gets rid of them
You can try the following to break a habit:
Habit-proof the trigger. Install a pattern interrupt; a physical blocker that will jolt you from the subconscious into the conscious brain.
For example, if you bite nails every time you watch TV – wear gloves. The habit of nailbiting will kick in, regardless of the gloves, BUT the minute your tongue gets a taste of the glove you will snap into using your conscious brain.
Once your conscious brain is engaged you can intentionally stop the behaviour. And once the brain fails to experience an expected outcome a number of times, it will break the habit itself.
If you choose to proceed with the behaviour while your conscious brain is engaged, i.e., remove the glove and bite your nails anyway, you may well be dealing with addiction.
Mirta is a Director of ViAGO Limited, a behavioral science enthusiast, and a mum to three boisterous boys.