How to Break Unwanted Habits

hand blocked by handcuff in blue sky
by Helena Popovic

Previously I have discussed the science of successful habit formation. 

But what about breaking unwanted habits?

Once again, neuroscience offers some answers.

How do bad habits form in the first place?

Bad habits are often the path of least resistance. They can be a way of blocking unwanted emotions or they provide immediate gratification. And if something offers instant relief or pleasure it’s very easy to get hooked. 

Is now a good time or a bad time to tackle breaking habits, given that we’re already dealing with so many other changes in our lives? 

Now is actually a good time because any change in our environment or circumstances can interrupt our habitual patterns of behaviour. 

Can simply changing our environment lead to a habit fading away?

It depends on the habit, but yes it can fade away. It’s quite likely that some people’s habits have already dropped off because they’re working from home and not in their usual routine. For instance, when you’re at work, you might habitually grab a packet of chips from the vending machine when you walk past. But if there’s no vending machine at home, there’s no prompt. Of course, you could plan ahead and buy chips from the supermarket but if you put them in the back of the pantry, you’re less likely to eat them because you’re not reminded of them by the trigger – the vending machine.


Find out more about Dr Helena Popovic on her profile page.


To hear the rest of the conversation on ABC radio Drive with Julie Clift, click here.

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