Want to break your bad habit? Make this change

Many Americans have some pretty bad habits. Here's how they can break them in one swift move.

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  • Quitting your old habits at the start of a new year may not be the best strategy if you really want to dump them.

  • You may have to wait until you switch homes or get a different job.

  • Recent research from the University of Bath has found that making a major life change will help you drop your bad habits. The study, which looked into a theory called "habit discontinuity," found that your lifestyle choices can change when your life also takes a different turn.

  • This is because those major life changes make people feel more open to new information and suggestions, which can help them avoid their bad habits, Tech Times reported. The researchers called this time a "window of opportunity," which lasts about three months.

  • "Life transitions, such as moving house or changing jobs, presents a real opportunity to influence the choices people make. Often, around the time of a major change, life can be up in the air and as such we know that people are generally more open to new ideas and information," professor Bas Verplanken, the lead author of the study, told Tech Times.

  • To find this, researchers looked to see if 800 participants — half of which had moved from their house in the last six months — changed their minds about recycling and energy use. They were given some sustainable products that would help them recycle and given a bus schedule so they could use less fuel. Those who had moved were more likely to change their habits.

  • The researchers suggest that people should work together to find better opportunities in career and life goals for those who want to break their habits so that they can improve their situations, Tech Times reported.

  • This research is backed up by a study earlier this year from Duke University that found breaking bad habits requires the brain to go through a sort of stop-and-go phenomenon.

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  • Controlled by the basal ganglia — "a complex region of the brain that controls good habits, motor actions, bad habits and compulsive behaviours," CBC reported — these signals either give you the go-ahead to do something, or give you the willpower to stop doing it. These "go" signals are often ignited when we form habits, and it requires a lot of work to overcome them.

  • "Normally, in order to do something that is not habitual, we have to overcome the stop signal with conscious control. We have to tell our bodies to overcome that inhibition," CBC reported.

  • That usually means having to stop doing the habit enough that the "go" signal stops igniting and weakens, CBC reported.

  • Breaking a bad habit isn't easy for anyone, and it's often debated about how long it takes to truly break one. The aforementioned University of Bath study said people with bad habits take about three months to fully break them.

  • But there may not be an actual amount of time, according to researchers who recently spoke to Science Alert. Breaking bad habits sometimes requires people to find a different habit to replace their bad one, and it can take anywhere between 21 to 66 days to form that new habit.

  • "It's much easier to start doing something new than to stop doing something habitual without a replacement behaviour," neuroscientist Elliot Berkman told Science Alert. "That's one reason why smoking cessation aids such as nicotine gum or inhalers tend to be more effective than the nicotine patch."

  • To get people to break their bad habits, then, Berkman suggests people seek sources of motivation to increase their drive to quit. The replacement behavior is one way, but it's possible to eliminate your habit altogether without replacing it with another.

  • Those who want to follow that path need to be patient, though, as it may take time for them to stop doing something they've been doing for awhile.

  • "Longtime habits are literally entrenched at the neural level, so they are powerful determinants of behavior," Berkman said. "The good news is that people are nearly always capable of doing something else when they're made aware of the habit and are sufficiently motivated to change."

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Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.

Website: https://twitter.com/HerbScribner

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