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Teaching Your Brain to Ward Off Bad Habits

What's the Latest?

The Chicago Tribune currently features an article by Danielle Braff detailing strategies for breaking annoying habits. Braff explains that to tackle a bad habit, one must understand the anatomy of a habit. She evokes Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, who offers a tripartite explanation. Every habit, says Duhigg, consists of a cue, a routine and a reward: 

"The reward is how our brain learns how to latch on to the habit," Duhigg said, explaining that the reward is always something positive. Your brain tries to turn a repeatable pattern into a habit as long as it has a reward attached. So if you have a cup of coffee with a cookie, then your brain will use the coffee as a cue for a cookie. If you do this often enough (every other day for three weeks, for example), your brain will turn it into a repeatable pattern, and that pattern will become a habit.

As you can probably surmise, the secret to kicking habits is to train the brain away from this routine.

What's the Big Idea?

Braff offers a number of examples of ingrained, trained habits and the ways one can re-train the brain to avoid falling into the subconscious pursuits of unhealthy rewards. She acknowledges that some strategies require more effort than others -- some even requiring broad lifestyle changes. 

Braff's article also features strategies for how to avoid falling into bad habits, the classic "cure by prevention" method. She quotes author Tara Gidus:

"I think a lot of it is planning, as in having healthier substitutions, but it also has to do with plain old willpower and self-talk."

Read more at The Chicago Tribune

Photo credit: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock

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