How to get rid of bad habits

Changing the way you look and feel is going to require some major changes in your lifestyle. You might find it easy to adapt to a new routine but you'll find yourself falling off the wagon every now and then without being sure why that is. Your motivation is high, your will power is high and yet you find yourself falling into the behaviours that got you where you are.

Moving from an unhealthy to a healthy lifestyle is going to require breaking bad habits and creating new positive ones.

We are going to split the two phases into separate articles. Behavioural changes can be very overwhelming to tackle and you want to make sure that you start small and get frequent success to fuel your confidence.

How the brain works

The principle is very simple. We get triggered by a stimulus to perform a certain action and reward our selves with the positive feeling caused by the action. Our brain remembers the positive feeling and connects it to the action.

For example:

You walk into the kitchen and see a slice of chocolate cake on the table. You get a visual trigger, your brain knows that your body needs calories to survival and instinct drives you to eat the cake without giving it any thoughts.

What happens next is that our magnificent brain will connect the positive feeling given by the food (or nicotine, alcohol etc) and will use it as a solution to change the negative state of mind.

Your trigger for eating is not going to be any more "seeing food" it will become "being sad".

If you are a smoker you are not going to be driven to lit up a cigarette by smelling someone else's but by stress.

In this phase, survival brain processes like "eating to feed your organism" become killing processes. Although we consciously know that overeating, smoking, drinking, etc. are bad for our health, we keep doing it.

The solution

The danger is understood by the pre-frontal cortex. This is also the part of the brain that helps us change our behaviours to prevent danger.

The issue is, this is also the first part of the brain that shuts-down in stressful and emotional situations.

But we can teach ourselves to keep it engaged. It's going to be a slow process but it is certainly doable.

When you find yourself caught in the behaviour you want to eliminate be MINDFUL. Analyse what you are really getting out of it and become disenchanted with it.

When you are watching tv at night and you find yourself digging into an ice cream bucket, think of the extra calories and sugar that you are getting and how it's going to affect your health in the long run. Think whether is hunger or boredom that is pushing to you eat.

Do the same while smoking the cigarette you didn't really want. How does it really taste? Is it as good as you imagined?

Why have you picked up your phone and opened Instagram for the 1000th time today, breaking up your workflow and your attention? How did that make you really feel? What did you gain from doing it?

Don't be hard on your self

Mindfulness is not an easy process that can be learnt overnight and applied to every single aspect of your life. Rather than beating yourself up when you realise you should have done it, celebrate the moments you remember to do it.

Celebrate that one time you started eating a cake but stopped and put it away. The time you lit a cigarette and threw it away after a few puff because you realise you didn't want it. Or the time you looked at your phone but instead of picking it up, you carried on with your tasks.


This article summarises the studies of Dr Judson Brewer an American psychiatrist, neuroscientist and author. He studies the neural mechanisms of mindfulness using standard and real-time fMRI and has translated research findings into programs to treat addictions.

Here is the link to its website Dr Jud | Learn How to Change Bad Habits & Overcome Addiction.

*I'm not affiliated in any way with Dr Judson Brewer, just a fan of his work and research.

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