How to kick off a great year of kicking bad habits.
by Heather Rodriguez ’04
It’s 2018, y’all! In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, the College of Liberal Arts sat down with the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences’ Brian Anderson to get tips on how to break bad habits. We hope you find this helpful in the coming year. Isn’t science awesome?
1. Recognize that it’s not all about willpower
According to Anderson, roughly 50% of human behavior is driven by habits. Certain ones have more of a pull on us than others. And while willpower does come into play when trying to overcome an addiction, it’s not the only thing–addictions are much more complicated than that.
“You have to respect that no matter how powerful your determination is, sometimes that habit isn’t something you can just willpower away,” he said.
So it’s gonna take some work, but if you follow the other tips, you’ll be able to say:
2. Stay positive
Framing your resolution as something positive instead of negative can make a huge difference. For example, make the resolution that you want to drink more water rather than you want to drink less sodas.
“Psychologically we’re drawn towards things that are rewarding to us. You’re going to be drawn towards something, so it may as well be a good habit,” Anderson said. “You also need to reward yourself for practicing the kinds of behaviors you want to have.”
Which brings us to…
3. Replacement therapy
“When you feel that urge, respond to it in a consistent way that builds a new link in your brain between the temptation and the behavior,” Anderson said. “This also takes your mind off the impulse…but you have to make the alternative appealing to yourself.”
So maybe instead of indulging, do something ridiculous and fun.
4. Set concrete goals, both big and small
“Set some measured goals in the here and now, but also have overarching goals,” Anderson said. “If you’re trying to quit smoking, tell yourself each day you’re not going to buy any. That makes the long-term goal more tangible.”
So while it may sound trite, take it one day at a time. Sorry.
5. Don’t set yourself up for failure…
“You have to minimize the number of opportunities you have access to whatever triggers you,” Anderson said. “If you want to watch TV, the last thing you want to do is sit in front of one and say over and over, ‘I’m not gonna watch it.’”
In other words, if you’re trying to cut down on calories, try to avoid pizza.
6. …but understand that you’re human. Don’t punish yourself.
“Setbacks happen, so don’t tell yourself that if you crack one time that you’ve blown it,” Anderson said. “If you don’t keep your goals realistic, the disappointment can lead to total failure.”
Anderson also said that associating a behavior with pain, such as slapping yourself when you feel an urge to engage in the behavior you’re trying to avoid, is a recipe for disaster.
“Punishment makes habits salient too,” he said. “And in some cases it accentuates the attention-grabbing quality of the trigger.”
Anderson said that addiction comes with many averse outcomes, but that alone isn’t effective at curbing impulse response. The way to deter yourself is using the other tips above, so go make this year the best one yet!