How to Break Bad Habits

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A woman sitting on a couch eating chips and pointing a TV remote.
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We all know that breaking a bad habit can be incredibly difficult. Fortunately, science has uncovered a new way to do it, and if you’re a list-maker, you’re gonna love it.

According to Dr. Wendy Wood, author of Good Habits, Bad Habits, there are two parts of your brain to blame for your bad habits.

The first is the prefrontal cortex, or your intentional mind, where goal-oriented habits come from. Essentially, this is the part of your brain that propels you to make good decisions.

Then, there’s the orbitofrontal cortex, or your “habitual mind” as Dr. Wood calls it. This is basically your “inner child,” which seeks reward and positive emotion. It’s the orbitofrontal cortex that wins when you form bad habits.

So, how do you stop your inner brat from taking over your frontal cortex?

Evidently, it’s all about what you do the moment the bad habit kicks in. What you need to do is immediately create a pro and con list in your brain.

For example, if you want to start going to bed earlier, starting a new episode of a series you’re binging a few minutes before your new bedtime isn’t a good idea. However, you’ll likely do it anyway because the habit formed in your orbitofrontal cortex.

When this happens, think about the pros and cons of the decision. In this case, the pro is you’ll get to watch more of a series you like. The cons, however, are you’ll likely be sleepier in the morning or you might even oversleep. You’ll also feel less rested all day and maybe even be disappointed in yourself.

Essentially, you have to train your brain to reinforce the downsides of certain habits, like binge-watching too late at night. Then, just keep repeating that step until it kicks in. Don’t forget, of course, to focus on the benefits too! It’s not just that staying up late every night and being sleep-deprived is a bad thing, it’s that getting enough sleep and feeling refreshed and happy the next day is a good thing too!

Of course, this will take some time, so be patient with yourself, and check out these other tips for developing habits that stick.

[Via Inc.]





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