Nail biting and not flossing, skipping breakfast and mindless munching. We all have a bad habit (or two) that needs breaking. To help derail some of the unhealthy ones, try these strategies:
Disrupt triggers. Habits form when we make connections between cues and responses, which then become patterns of behavior. So by removing those cues, or triggers, it’s easier to form new behaviors, say experts. For example: If you want to stop snacking on chips or cookies after you get home from work, rearrange your pantry so unhealthy options are harder to reach. If you always run out of time for breakfast in the morning, leave a washed piece of fruit near your car keys or stick a breakfast bar in your bag the night before.
Repeat, and repeat again for 66 days. In the time it took to adopt a bad habit, it takes the same time to form a new (healthier) one—and that’s all through repetition. Researchers in London followed 96 volunteers over 12 weeks as they adopted a new health habit, such as drinking a bottle of water with lunch or running for 15 minutes before dinner. They found it takes an average of 66 days for these simple behaviors to feel automatic. That said, everyone is different and the length of time for an action to become a habit varied widely—anywhere from 18 days to 254 days, according to the study. Researchers also found people who repeated a behavior every day were more likely to make it a habit quicker.
Create new cues. It’s easier to maintain a new behavior if it’s repeated in a specific context, say experts. So if you want to floss more, for example, connect it to a strong cue like brushing your teeth. Planning to floss after you brush makes brushing the trigger or cue to remember to floss. Over time this pattern of brushing and flossing will become automatic.