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How to break a bad habit

Are you that guy at brunch who CAN’T. STOP. playing Candy Crush? Or, have you ever reached for another potato chip, only to realize that you had eaten the entire bag in one sitting?

Worst of all, do you acknowledge you have a bad habit — but can’t seem to get rid of it?

“Why we keep doing things that hurt us is a fascinating question, because, normally, we learn from experience,” said Richard O’Connor, author of “Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior” (Hudson Street Press). In his book, O’Connor draws on the idea that we have “two brains,” a conscious, decision-making one and an automatic one that “quickly gobbles up the potato chip while the conscious self is distracted,” he writes in the book.

So, in order to kick a bad habit, you have to consciously coach your autopilot self through it, which isn’t always easy.

Here are O’Connor’s tips to getting rid of pesky bad habits:

Practice willpower. People believe they lack willpower, but willpower is not something you either have or don’t. It’s a skill that can be developed with practice by telling yourself no, removing yourself from the temptation or reminding yourself that there’s a bigger reward if you don’t give in.

Try replacement therapy. The real secret is not to try to break a bad habit but to learn to do something else instead. Instead of going on a battle against procrastination, reframe it. The trick is to focus on a positive activity you feel good about.

Be realistic when setting goals. The overarching goal is where you want to end up. Operational goals, or concrete steps for the next day, week or month, will help you reach the overarching goal. In other words, using weight as the example, focus on losing 2 pounds each week.

Make your goals public. Talking with other people about how you want to change can be helpful. It can also give you motivation when your friends and family help you out by reminding you of your goals.

Don’t sweat the slip-ups. Every time you practice a good behavior, you’re building a little network of neurons that make it easier to do the same thing next time.


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