18-year-old Chloe knew in her heart of hearts the truth: She was addicted to her cellphone. Checking social media apps, responding at lightning speeds to text messages and getting anxiety attacks every time she thought she misplaced her phone was a part of her routine now. It took almost being in a car accident because she responded to a text to make her realize that she needed help. She needed to break this habit.
It’s easy to relate to Chloe because we all have bad habits that we want to break. Smokers want to quit smoking but can’t seem to. Alcoholics want to curb the urge to reach for a glass of wine. Overeaters can’t seem to keep their mind off of delicious cookies.
But there is a way, a simple way to get rid of these bad habits and it’s called mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply being aware of the present moment. So, how does mindfulness break bad habits?
First, we need to understand how habits are formed. They are formed by the brain following a pattern which includes trigger, behavior and reward. Let’s say you’re upset about something and you want to feel good. You see a piece of delectable cake in a café (the trigger). The very image of a cake can increase dopamine in our brain.
Dopamine increases when your pleasure centers of the brain are activated. So you decide to eat the cake to make yourself feel better (the behavior). And guess what? It does make you feel better (the reward) – for some time. The next time you’re upset, your body will try to make you feel better by craving chocolate cake. The cycle becomes routine and routines are hard to break.
Mindfulness allows you to break this cycle – and routine – by first, becoming aware of your habit and cravings and second, by making you pause and ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” Cell phone addicts might frequently check their phone because they are simply uncomfortable with waiting. Smokers might reach for a pack of cigarettes because it takes the edge off of a stressful meeting. Being aware of why you’re what you’re doing is the first step towards breaking a bad habit.
Mindfulness, which can be achieved through meditation, is known to activate the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain that is associated with making rational decisions, planning and concentration. Sadly, the prefrontal cortex shuts down when we’re stressed. That’s why we’re more likely to form bad habits when we’re stressed.
Even 5 or 10 minutes of meditation every day can help you break bad habits by increasing your awareness of the present moment. Once you become mindful, the next time you smack your lips looking at a piece of cake longingly, you are more likely to take a deep breath, pause and ask yourself why do you really want to eat it? Do you think it’ll make you feel better? Will cake really solve your problems?
Here’s a great 10-minute meditation specifically designed to help you eliminate bad habits.
Are you struggling to break a bad habit? While mindfulness is useful in becoming aware of these habits, counseling can also help battle addictions. If you or someone you care about needs help in breaking a bad habit, feel free to contact Orly Gueron a Licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship specialist in Aventura, FL!