So here are my top 3 steps for breaking a habit.
Firstly, a little science around habits.
When you do something that is familiar to your brain it releases a drug called Dopamine. This drug makes you feel better. It makes you do the thing you are about to do. If you stop doing the thing, and your brain doesn’t recognise your thoughts, you don’t get Dopamine. You go cold turkey.
This is why breaking a habit is uncomfortable.
But you can train your brain in the same way as you can train any muscle in your body. You can increase your willpower. And by increasing your willpower you have the strength to endure the short period where you are going cold turkey from dopamine.
Imagine you start your day with a bucket of willpower points. As you go through the day you spend your points. By the end of the day the bucket is empty, so you have no more willpower points to spend. Training your brain is about starting the day with a bigger bucket of willpower points.
So how do you train your brain to have more willpower?
1. Do the same thing differently.
If you are smoking, smoke with the opposite hand. Or smoke a different brand. Or allow yourself to have a cigarette but take one puff and then put it down. Count to 10 and take another puff. Put it down. This is you taking control of something that is normally out of control. Do a little of something different every day. Like with any training, the more you do, the stronger you get. Increase the time to 20 seconds. Hold the cigarette in the opposite hand and with different fingers.
2. Create a long term idealistic goal rather than a shorter term fixed goal.
Decide that in a years time you want to be a non-smoker. This means that even if you have a cigarette today, you haven’t blown your goal. You have something to aim for. Recognise each time you choose not to smoke as a step towards your goal and each time you choose to smoke as a pause. This way there is no failure. You give yourself credit for what you achieve instead of beating yourself up for failure. Consider too, if you put something off until tomorrow, ask “How would the me tomorrow feel about the me today stealing my time?”
3. Just breathe.
So many studies now show that meditation is a powerful tool both for the mind and body. It’s also really good for boosting self-control and willpower. Set a timer for 1 minute every day. In that minute spend time just focussing on your breathing. Thoughts will come into your head and distract you. Take each thought and imagine it disappearing just as quickly as it arrives. You can dissolve it, see it float down a river, imagine it flying away. Any way that comes to mind. You might even find it helps to label the different thoughts – negative, future, to-do, etc. You can change their colour or their sound. But each time you are distracted by a thought, bring your attention back to your breathing after banishing it.
If you need a little help with these steps, you can download the Willpower Workout from the appstore. Search “TICIWillpower” or click on the link below (Apple devices only)