How Old Habits CAN Die Hard (in 3 Easy Steps)
by Ann Connor
We all know the old adage “old habits die hard.” And if you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit—from nail biting to desert cravings—un-conditioning your body can be a seriously difficult task. So much so that, even the science community didn’t think it was all that possible…until now. Turns out there is hope after all!
Thanks to a study published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, MIT scientists have found that a particular part of our brain (a small part of the prefrontal cortex responsible for the planning and decision-making thought processes), is also responsible for forming our habits. How does this help us to break those habits? They also discovered that this region of the brain can actively overwrite pre-existing habits—boom.
So, while habitual actions are designed to allow our brains to work on auto-pilot in order to free up more thinking space, this research suggests that habits aren’t 100% out of our control—the prefrontal cortex still plays a small role in actively choosing one action over another, even with the most ingrained habits.
Given this new information, we’ve done you the favor of gathering together a few tricks that can help to facilitate the overwriting process. So stay strong, follow these tips, and kick those nasty habits to the curb once and for all!
Know No Cure: Although this new study provides a lot of promise for not only better understanding how we form habits, how they stick, and how to create new ones, it is important to note that this study also found that, despite rewriting a habit, the old one still exists. So thinking that you’re in the clear because you’ve firmly established a better habit to replace the old could wind up to bite you once you’re “cured.” It’s important to remember that that habit is in there somewhere, and if you actively decide to engage it, you could fall back into old ways. So be mindful—stay strong and committed to the new you!
Schedule It: A good way of staying strong and committed to the new you? Pen it in your planner or calendar. Best-selling author Gretchen Rubin believes that scheduling your new habit will help it to stick, especially if it isn’t yet a fixed habit:
An unfixed habit requires more decision making and adjustment: I’m in the habit of going to the gym on Mondays, and I write every day, but every Monday I must decide when to go to the gym, and I must decide when and where I’ll do my daily writing. I try to make my good habits as fixed as possible, because the more consistently I perform an action, the more automatic it becomes, and the fewer decisions it requires; but given the complexities of life, many habits can’t be made completely automatic.
Rise and Repeat: And like anything that is habitual, constant repetition is key. Science differs on how long it takes to actually form a new habit or to eradicate an old one. And just like everyone’s thumbprint is unique, so are their habit-forming (and breaking!) abilities. Some habits form easier for some and harder for others. It’s as simple as that. So consistency is crucial for getting that new habit to work for you.
What other tricks and tips do you have for forming new habits in favor of old ones? We’d love to hear from you! Share with us!