The Sports Psychology Monthly Minute is a monthly article on some of the latest in sports.
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How often have you attempted to cut back on screen time, soda consumption, or watching TV while you sleep? How much did you criticize yourself after each failure?
If this starts to sound a little too familiar it’s time to take a completely new strategy to breaking bad habits and preventing them from interfering with your wellness objectives. You can’t force yourself to stop pretending the inevitable. Your self-control and willpower will start to fade. You need to attack the problem head-on and rewire your thinking to break negative patterns.
Whether the tendency is frequent gym attendance or chain smoking, our brain is affected in the same ways by both. Your mind is stimulated to behave in a certain manner, and your brain responds by capturing a reward. You settle in for an afternoon class or workshop (trigger), down a soda (behavior), and experience a sugar rush (reward). All of this frequently occurs without your conscious awareness.
The majority of your daily activities are unconscious habits. Autopilot is great for positive habits, but it’s terrible for things you wish you hadn’t done. Follow this five-step accountability strategy to act with greater intention and focus on the source of the issue rather than on yourself.
Discover your bad habits
You need to grasp the underlying cause of these patterns if you want to stop endlessly scrolling through your phone or consuming that second (OK, third) cookie. Grab a pen and some paper, and for each bad practice you have, list the cause, the action, and the benefit. Let’s use scrolling as an example. . Your buddy pulling out their phone could be the trigger that causes you to do the same and start scrolling through social media. The prize might be a few likes on the most recent photo you shared or giggling at an overly relatable meme. This trigger-behavior-reward cycle is hardwired into your brain, and realizing it exists is the first step in breaking it.
Change the setting.
Avoiding triggers is a simple way to break the bad habit loop. Locations, times of day, and even the people around you can all be subconscious triggers. Take charge of fine-tuning those cues, and you’ll see real behavioral progress. If you discover that whenever you sit on your couch and open your laptop, you reach for a snack, try opening your computer only at a desk or table, where you are conditioned to be in work mode instead of lounge mode. If you reach for your phone or TV remote every night before bed, put it in another room and replace it with a book on your nightstand.
Create some friction
Use your imagination to add friction to patterns you want to alter. Do you have a habit of biting your nails? It’s time for a pedicure. Do you spend all day at your computer? Try a hard-backed desk chair that encourages you to stand frequently. Even a small amount of resistance can stop your automatic response, allowing you to move forward.
Watch in real time
Think about how you feel the next time you’re procrastinating on a project or skimming the bottom of a jumbo bag of chips. Consider: What am I getting out of this? Simply being aware of your actions can change your brain’s ingrained habit. The second step is to consider how much better you feel when you don’t engage in your bad habit. Maybe the all-day high you get from going on a morning run rather than skipping it and feeling bad the rest of the day.
Develop a backup
Create a “if/then” plan for when progress stalls and you’re tempted to revert to your old, bad habit. For example, if you’re craving a soda in the afternoon, you’ll open a can of seltzer. Having a specific strategy for steering yourself to a better option can help ensure that it actually happens, especially when you’re first breaking a bad habit and it still has some sway over you.Breaking the trigger-behavior-reward cycle becomes easier with practice. Continue to follow the steps outlined above, and breaking your bad habits will soon become, well, a habit.