5 Techniques for Forming, Changing, and Breaking Habits

Being mentally strong is not enough!

Rasmus Ursem

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The donut is screaming “EAT ME!”. You resists as you tell yourself “Not today! You are stronger than that.” and return to working on the computer. Around 2 PM, you put you teeth in the cake and tell yourself it is okay as you have been working hard and deserve it. Despite of this, you know you have once again given in to one of your bad habits…

Giving in to a bad habit. Courtesy of Jeff Siepman (Unsplash)

You have almost certainly been in the scenario described above or something similar. Like me, you have probably also wondered why you end up giving in despite best intentions and concrete effort. You have most likely also wondered how to get rid of a bad habit and build a good one.

In short, a habit is a sequence of actions that is repeatedly started by an external or internal trigger. Internal triggers are thoughts or feelings such as the sugar craving described above. External triggers are cues in the environment that start the habit sequence, e.g., seeing the cake on the table.

In habit management, we want to be able to:

  1. Form a new positive habit from scratch.
  2. Change a bad habit into a better one.
  3. Break a bad habit without necessarily replacing it.

To be successful, you will need to use one or, more likely, several of the following techniques. I’ll use two classic examples as illustration of the techniques — a desire to eat less sugar and another target of exercising more.

Change the environment

We humans are lazy — or in more diplomatic terms, we humans prefer the path of least resistance. We take the elevator a couple of stories up even though the stairs are faster. We drive the short distance to the groceries store even though we know that it will be difficult to park nearby and walking is faster.

Easy path over the rugged terrain. Courtesy of Frans Van Heerden (Pexels)

In habit management, we need to put this insight to our advantage by making it difficult to carry out bad habits and removing obstacles for executing good habits. Thus, successful habit building…

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Rasmus Ursem

Computer & data scientist, writer, thinker, photographer, and generally curious about life and the wet matter between our ears — in short, I’m a poly-geek :-)