By Laurie Davies
So, back to the original question Luster often is asked: How do you break a habit once it has become a routine? It’s an especially important question if you’re dealing with bad habits that have the potential to become addictions.
“Habits are often incentivized by some sort of arousal,” Luster says. “Take mood-eating, which is a feel-good thing. We go find food, but then we’re left with other things that make us not feel good.” Procrastination and vaping or smoking are other examples.
Bad habits are usually things we run to in order to run from something else. For example, if you’re smoking, you may be running from stress. Luster says creating a “halfway productive state,” such as reaching for gum rather than a cigarette, can bait-and-switch the habit.
Or, let’s say the bad habit you’d like to change is procrastination. “If you don’t want to do something but need to meet a deadline, you could pair the thing you’ve been running from — and the feeling of anxiety over not doing it — with music that you like.” This can trick your brain into thinking the thing you’re procrastinating about is pleasurable.
As discussed in Luster’s Psychology Today article, the tipping point is that window of time before emotions eclipse your ability to think consciously about what you’re doing.
So, if you reach for a cigarette when you’re feeling stressed, you have to recognize the moment when the stress becomes so intense, you stop thinking about whether or not you want one and just move to light up.
If you can recognize your tipping point, you can learn to identify your triggers and back away from the unwanted habit while you’re still thinking critically. This, too, is rooted in science. “At and before the tipping point, you’re still in a place where you can think in a conscious way about what you’re doing,” Luster says. “You still have time to distract the brain from going to that emotional moment.”
How do you cope when a trigger activates? Count backward from 10 to 1 and imagine that on a film reel. Splash your face with cold water. Go for a walk. Engage in a puzzle. “These are things that get us back to front-brain thinking,” Luster says.