3 scientifically proven ways to break your bad habits

Break these bad money habits before you go broke
Break these bad money habits before you go broke

It's gratifying to set ambitious resolutions for the New Year sometime in December when you are still in your pajamas, sitting in front of a fire, drinking wine and eating cake.

Come early January, however, when it's cold and you are trying to get up early to get to the gym, eat more broccoli and write a business plan, it can be a lot less exciting to stick to those resolutions.

Before you despair, turn your alarm off and ditch your business plan for online shopping, here are three scientifically proven techniques to break your bad habits.

Supercharge your willpower

Willpower is another word for self-control, the ability to forego short-term temptations in order to reach long-term goals. For many, a lack of willpower is an excuse for giving up.

There are two common understandings about willpower. One is that it works like a muscle, in that it gets stronger when you use it. The other holds that you have a finite amount of willpower and if you spend a significant amount of energy avoiding, say, cookies early in the day, you will have less later on to motivate you to forego taking an Uber.

But there is also research that suggests that your amount of willpower depends on your thinking about willpower. If you think there is no limit to the amount of willpower you have, then there isn't. You can turn yourself into Rocky by convincing yourself that self-control works.

Dig into your bad habit

Psychiatrist and addiction expert Judson Brewer says that by becoming very mindful about what you are doing and why you are doing it, you can interrupt the existing feedback loop that keeps a bad habit going.

"What if instead of fighting our brains, or trying to force ourselves to pay attention, we instead tapped into this natural, reward-based learning process ... but added a twist? What if instead we just got really curious about what was happening in our momentary experience?" asks Brewer in a popular TED talk he gave on the topic.

The part of our brain that understands why we should not fall back on a bad habit, like, for example, smoking, is the same part of the brain that doesn't work well when we are stressed, says Brewer.

By digging into the experience of our bad habits, we are more likely to understand why they are bad for us and become less interested in acting on them.

"When we get curious, we step out of our old, fear-based, reactive habit patterns, and we step into being. We become this inner scientist where we're eagerly awaiting that next data point," says Brewer.

"Just be curiously aware of what's happening in your body and mind in that moment. It will just be another chance to perpetuate one of our endless and exhaustive habit loops ... or step out of it."

Try "I don't" rather than "I can't"

How you talk to yourself and others has a big difference in how well you are able to stick to your goals.

Saying "I don't" is empowering and suggests a self-imposed decision. Using "I can't," on the contrary, suggests being constrained by external forces.

By using "I don't" when refusing a trip to the mall, you will be more successful over the long-term in resisting temptation.

This is according to findings from Vanessa M. Patrick, an Bauer Associate Professor of Marketing at the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston and Henrik Hagtvedt, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College first published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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