How to Use Mindfulness to Break Your Bad Habits

By: Justin Keller

How to Use Mindfulness to Break Bad Habits
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Five Tips to Break Free From Your Black Hole of Bad Behavior Cycles

Illustrations: Aina Kawamoto

None of us were born with habits – we simply program them into our brains as we develop. First, there’s a trigger that allows a behavior to unfold. Next, the behavior itself occurs. Finally, there’s a reward – something about what you did made your brain happy, and so a loop forms.

Thankfully, mindfulness can come to the rescue. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully conscious and aware, and it can help you to finally conquer your bad habits. Being truly aware of yourself, your feelings and your impulses gives you some higher ground when trying to battle bad habits. Here are five ways practicing mindfulness meditation can do just that.

1. Recognize and accept your bad habits for what they are. 

Don’t judge yourself or your actions. It gives your bad habits more power. What’s important is that you’re honest with yourself – the first step in mindfulness is awareness. Some of your bad habits might be obvious – like smoking or overeating – but others can be much more subtle behaviors that take lots of practice and awareness training to catch.

Tip: Writing them down makes them concrete and helps you get a grip on the habit you’re trying to nip in the bud.

2. Understand root causes and triggers. 

The next step is to try to understand what sparked the habit in the first place and what triggers the behavior. This can be really tricky. Not all bad patterns are as nefarious as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, etc., but there are plenty of habits that steal from us – whether it’s our time, our attention or our focus. Catching yourself before you engage in these micro-habits is a sure way to knock them off.

Tip: Question what you’re getting out of these patterns. Are you trying to keep yourself distracted? Are you avoiding something? Why? A lot of times, the payoff of a bad habit isn’t as rewarding as being truly present for what’s going on around you.

3. Set an intention and have realistic digestible goals. 

You’re not a superhero and that’s okay. Oftentimes stress not only triggers habits – it can also reinforce them, making them even stickier. Give yourself a break and acknowledge that what you’re trying to do will take time. Tackle one pattern at a time and make small, incremental changes.

Tip: Write your goals down to hold yourself accountable. Tell your friends your goals and have them help you. And make sure you reward and praise yourself, not only when you hit your goals, but when you acknowledge and respond to any triggers.

4. Distract yourself with meditation when you’re getting an urge. 

Neuroplasticity is a big word for “creating habits”… by changing your brain. Countless studies show that a regular meditation practice has an enormous impact on your brain’s neuroplasticity. In other words, meditation helps rewrite your brain’s software, giving you more command over it. If you have a bad habit, it’s because your neural network has wired itself to become familiar with certain triggers and responses. The brain likes familiarity, and just like you wired your brain for some bad patterns, it’s easy to replace them with healthier ones.

Tip: Take five to ten minutes and find somewhere quiet where you can connect with yourself and do a mental check-in.

5. Be kind to yourself if you fail. 

We tend to be really hard on ourselves when we mess up and it can discourage us from getting back on the horse. As previously mentioned, stress might only make your habit worse. Self-compassion and treating yourself as you would a friend will help you get to your goal if it’s somewhere you honestly want to arrive.

Tip: If you slip up, start again.

They say that bad habits are like a comfy bed – easy to get into and really hard to get out of. There are no shortcuts to becoming your best self. Quitting bad habits is a ton of work, and it takes immense practice to succeed and sustain. Becoming aware of your habits, being honest and realistic, and committing to fixing them can make the battle much easier.


This post originally appeared on the Kit and Ace blog here.

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