Understanding and changing bad habits can help productivity.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a habit is a behaviour pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance. To break it down, a habit is something you are constantly doing and that is hard to stop doing.

As with everything in life, there are good and bad habits. Bad habits are the most common and easiest to acquire unconsciously. How many times have you found yourself the week before an essay or a midterm is due, convincing yourself you have nothing to do and there is so much time left to start studying? Then, the night before the due date you finally start studying or writing your assignment, because diamonds are made under pressure.

I get it. I am a student too and as guilty of that as the next person. Sometimes life does not give us a break and things just have to keep getting postponed. Truth be told, maybe I should not have spent one hour just scrolling through Instagram or watching YouTube videos. But I do anyway because I am used to it. Bad habit!

Bad habits are so quick to pick up and so easy to develop because they are usually things that bring instant gratification and are condoned by society. Good habits, however, require discipline, hard work, and dedication — qualities that are lacking in this new world of swiping up and down in virtual reality.

In the long run, bad habits become a hindrance to our success. The good news is, you do not have to wait until new years to start changing bad habits in your life. Thrive month is the perfect time to make some changes that will benefit our mental well-being in the long run. So, how do you break a bad habit and how do you acquire good ones?

Changing Bad Habits

Habits can be controlled. Their negative impact depends on how much control they exercise over our lives.

Examples of bad habits include, but are not limited to, procrastinating to the extent of leaving things for the night before, eating a lot of junk food, constantly biting your nails, continuous sedentarism, and always judging people on arbitrary and shallow criteria, among others.

The first and most crucial step to breaking a bad habit is identifying a behaviour as such and wanting to change it. Sounds obvious, but if we pick up a bad habit unconsciously, the logical thing is that we do it unconsciously as well.

Being more aware of the behaviours we engage in daily and understanding them not as part of a routine, but as something to change is always the first step.

Now, I will share with you an easy three-step plan to start changing your habits:

1. Become aware of the triggers for your bad habit.

This one can be difficult because sometimes we think we start engaging in a certain behaviour out of the blue or simply because it is normal. However, ask yourself how you were feeling prior to starting the scroll through Instagram and how were you feeling while doing it. Were you bored or frustrated with your assignment? Notice your environment as well. Was your phone really easy to reach, even though you had planned to study for hours?

2. Change your environment.

If you know that studying ahead of time is not something you particularly enjoy and therefore are more likely to turn to procrastination, then leave your phone out of reach. Studying in your room? Leave your phone in the washroom or kitchen. These little changes to our environment can program the brain to make it easier to do the thing you want to do or avoid the thing you want to avoid. If you change your environment, you have no excuses for engaging in detrimental behaviour.

3. Find positive substitutes for your behaviour.

Habits can be morphed and transformed. It is not about breaking them completely but trying to find something else to do. Studies show, and therapists say, that if you try to suppress a thought, it will only come back up. You have to replace it, not repress it.

Instead of sitting down to study and thinking you can go for three hours straight, one of which you end up wasting on YouTube, study with a purpose and in an organized manner. Schedule in mini-breaks in between every half hour of studying. At the end of one chapter, reward yourself with one YouTube video, or a call to a friend, or even a chocolate bar.

It is important to keep ourselves motivated by understanding that changing the bad habit will be more beneficial in the long run. Be patient, be kind to yourself, and don’t give up!