A mom-friend has this nasty habit she can’t get rid of: shopping online. In the beginning, it seemed like a great alternative to doing a chore she was going to do, anyway — convenient, even. For example, getting the services of an online grocery store saved her the trouble of driving all the way to the supermarket, getting stuck in traffic, and waiting in line at the cashier. It was all good.
However, she soon discovered how easy it was to shop online for other things, too: a pair of shoes, a new dress, a different shade of lipstick, and then it all went downhill from there (she would justify the habit by saying that she wasn’t buying only for herself, but for her child also). Not long after, all those purchases made a dent on their savings. Her relationship with her husband had become strained as a result. That’s when she resolved to stop this expensive habit.
Habits are a part of human behavior and an “adaptive feature of how the brain works,” saysRussell Poldrack, a psychology professor at Stanford University. And because habits take time to form, it will also take some effort to break them. It’s never easy — remember, the mind is a powerful thing — but this also tells you that if you have the willpower, you can overcome a nasty habit.
Recognize what triggers the habit
Elliot Berkman, director of the University of Oregon’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab, says a habit consists of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue triggers the behavior. For my mom-friend, the trigger was being online. She could easily wander off to online stores and spend hours there. The key, then, is to pinpoint that which takes you back to the habit — in her case, using her gadgets — and avoiding it. If that’s too difficult, limiting her data allocation may help so she can’t linger online.
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Develop a new good habit
“It’s hard to stop a behavior,” says Berkman. If this is the case, maybe forming a new one, in the hopes of replacing that one you want to kick, might be the answer. If you’re trying to quit smoking, for example, chew a gum every time you get the urge. If it’s online activities you want to avoid, it may be helpful to start a hobby that you can do offline, such as painting or calligraphy. Be prepared as forming a new habit takes a while, and even longer for an existing behavior to change.
Wanting to get rid of a bad habit is in itself a good reason to quit, but if will power is an issue for you, it may be easy to stray from your objective unless there is a bigger reason to do so. Using the same example as above, a deeper purpose for regulating this lady’s unhealthy online habit is so she can save her relationships. Excessive online shopping has prompted trust issues and arguments about finances between her and her husband. By reminding herself that her family life is at stake if she doesn’t shape up, she may be a lot more motivated to quit online shopping.
Know your stress points
“You’re more likely to do the thing you don’t want to do when you’re stressed out,” says Poldrack. Case in point: we’re all familiar with stress eating, where you eat your way out of a tough period, say, at work, and it usually happens right before a big presentation/meeting. If you’re aware of how stress affects you, be wary and avoid anything that will trigger the habit, and instead try stress-reduction techniques like meditation or exercise.