Breaking habits isn’t an easy thing to do. A habit is a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. Practicing mindfulness is a way to get control of your thoughts and emotions and is a catalyst for change. Doing things the same old way, without thinking and out of routine is comfortable and easy. It’s easy because you don’t have to think or deal with something new.
Forming good habits and breaking bad ones is a process and it takes time. You need to train your brain to break and change habits. Willpower is not going to work in this case. There’s something in our brains that literally causes us to lose self-control. Dopamine is one of the main chemicals regulating the pleasure center of the brain. It sends signals that say, “This feels good.”
Nora Volkow, M.D. and Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), found that images alone affect the rise of dopamine in our brains. This means you can see something and it may unconsciously drive your motivation for action. It’s important to recognize the power of the pause in the process of breaking bad habits. When you’re in a mindful state you have the ability to pause, notice a sensation or urge and surf the urge as it peaks, crests and falls back down. Urge surfing teaches you to use the focus of your breath as a “surfboard” for riding the wave of uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and sensations rather than the usual approach of avoiding the discomfort and urge. Some of you may have heard this before, “ride the wave” because whatever it is will pass.
Start by getting curious about what sparks your compulsive urges and bad habits. For example, we’re all addicted to our phones in this day and age. When you catch yourself wanting to go for your phone, notice what cues are triggering you to check it. Are you killing time? Do you see someone else on their phone? Are you bored or uncomfortable waiting for someone or something? Training your brain to recognize a cue can help you put space between you and the habit. It will give you room to ask, “What do I really want to pay attention to in this moment? What matters right now?” As you get better at recognizing this crucial space between the stimulus and response, you’ll start making choices that better align with your values. Over time this process will start to come more naturally. (Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
Be honest with yourself. Face what’s bothering you or what you’d like to change. Set a goal and be patient. Recognize what triggers are causing you to repeat bad behaviors. No one else can make the change for you. The power is in your hands. With the right mindfulness skills and support from friends and family, you can learn how to break out of routine and create a better life that’s enjoyable, healthy and rewarding.