21 Days to Break a Habit?

I didn’t think about it this way until I was emailing with my Grandma, who offered encouragement to me on my OMW endeavor saying “You’ll have kicked the habit by now!” I didn’t even realize I was breaking a habit. Or perhaps making a habit. Either way I’m changing an automatic behavior – to grab for sweets when they are available – and creating a new one – to say no to sweets when they are offered.

In doing a little research on habit formation and habit breaking, I found out that habits have a structure. They have a cue; a situation, time, person, or activity that triggers a behavior (I can think of an example cue here; growing up we didn’t have too much junk food in the house, but my next door neighbors always had Oreos in their cabinet. To this day when I go to their house I crave Oreos). Then there is the routine, which is the actual behavior, like reaching for the cookie. Last is the reward, which is something that your brain likes that helps it remember the habit loop in the future.

To break a habit, Charles Duhigg, the author of How to Break a Habit, suggests identifying the cue, replacing the routine with a more constructive behavior (drink a cup of tea instead of grabbing a cookie), asking yourself whether you feel satisfied (since often the habit is an automatic response and may not answer what you are actually craving) and repeating that routine. Sounds like a bummer, but definitely a step towards self betterment.

However, the whole doing this sort of thing for 21 days and you’re magically habit free-thing is a myth. Studies have shown that a behavior can begin to feel automatic after as little as 18 days and as many as 254 days, depending on the person and the habit. What is important to note is that it’s easier to make a new habit than break an old one, so the replacing your routine with something constructive method can be effective.

I’m not sure I’ve broken my sweets habit, if that’s what it is. I’m seriously craving chocolate these days and I’m totally going to have some come March. But thinking about habit breaking might be really helpful for my March challenge of giving up what is basically internet junk food. When I open my browser I automatically click on my Facebook shortcut. I don’t even think about it. Same for when there’s a lull in whatever I’m working on. I think that a month without using Facebook unless I need to (I need it for work) might actually break that habit. Or I’ll have to figure out a constructive way to replace it. Maybe every time I feel the urge to click on it I’ll close my computer…

25 thoughts on “21 Days to Break a Habit?

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