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Using Mindfulness to Beat Bad Habits and Replace Them With Good Habits

There is no shame in having bad habits. Everyone is guilty of biting their nails, impulse buying things they can’t afford, or putting work off until the last minute.

You probably have your own personal bad habit that has been a problem for a long time. However, the time must come when you are ready to admit to yourself that it’s time to beat bad habits. Whether it’s a big bad habit or a small one, this article is your sign to finally kick whatever is plaguing you.

The key to beating bad habits is using mindfulness to replace your bad habits with good habits. Changing your ways is not impossible.

What is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness” is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s engagement with the present moment. When you are being mindful, you are actively aware of the present moment. A lot of people associate mindfulness with meditation or creating a moment of calm in order to relieve stress.

While practicing mindfulness, it is important to not judge your thoughts and feelings as they pass through you. They are not good or bad, they just are.

Although it has roots in Buddhist mediation, mindfulness has become more secular in American culture. Jon Kabat-Zinn started the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) program in 1979, and since then has documented the multiple mental and physical health benefits of practicing mindfulness. Below are some benefits of practicing mindfulness in your every day life.

Decreased Stress

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While we all experience stress on a daily basis due to work and other responsibilities, there are numerous ways to deal with it.

If you don’t address it, stress can make your life much more difficult and uncomfortable. Stress can cause low energy, headaches, insomnia, and more. Mindfulness is the best way to deal with stress.

Since mindfulness centers you in the present moment, that moment becomes a lot less stressful. The next time you feel stressed out, try a few breathing exercises and becoming more aware of your feelings.

Conflict Resolution

I find that when I’m actively practicing mindfulness, I am better able to handle conflict. I can diffuse a situation that might otherwise spiral out of control by giving myself a bit of mental breathing room.

When you are aware that the conflict is a momentary issue, you are less likely to be antagonized and get caught up in counterproductive arguments.

How Can Mindfulness Help Me Beat Bad Habits?

Before we can beat bad habits, it’s important to understand the science behind why we form them in the first place.

Trigger, Behavior, Reward

The standard habit model of “trigger, behavior, reward” is a great way to look at this problem. When you’re stressed or anxious about something, you don’t feel too good. When you don’t feel good, what does your brain want? To feel better, of course.

You automatically do something that makes you feel good. Maybe it isn’t good for you, like smoking a cigarette, constantly checking Instagram, or eating too much ice cream. You know you shouldn’t do it because it’s a bad habit, but you do it anyway because it brings you short term relief. This unhealthy coping mechanism becomes a reflex, which isn’t so great in the longrun.

What you need to be focused on is solving the underlying problem that is making you stressed or anxious, rather than using bad habits as a crutch. As we’ve learned, bad habits won’t solve anything. Eventually, they may make your problems worse.

Start Noticing

Bad habits are instinctive, which makes them difficult to notice. Start taking note of your bad habits as they happen. If you really want to beat bad habits, then the first step is to stop lying to yourself and acknowledge that you have formed a bad habit.

However, it is also important that this acceptance doesn’t come with any guilt, self judgement or self blame. There are supportive people, such as your friends and family, who want to see you succeed and beat bad habits.

Now, this is where the mindfulness comes in. The combination of noticing your reaction to a trigger and being mindful of the current moment will start to break the initial cycle of trigger, behavior, reward.

When you are triggered by stress or anxiety, instead of falling back on your bad habit, take a step back. Remove yourself from the situation and count to ten. Become mindful of the current moment. Remember that reinforcing your bad habit isn’t going to make things better.

Replacing Bad Habits with Good Habits

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Now that you are being mindful of your situation, you are aware that you should not immediately give in to your craving for screen time or sweets.

Instead, distract yourself with something positive.

If you need to chew on something try chewing gum, or drinking water through a straw. Consider going for a walk to change your environment and breathe some fresh air. If you need to use your hands, then find something to write or work on. Cooking, building models, or painting and other crafts are often meditative activities that can create a peaceful space for you. Exercise can also be a big source of stress relief and a great outlet for redirecting nervous energy.

Many times doing a mindfulness exercise can be all you need to find comfort in the face of a moment of discomfort or stress. Apps like Headspace and Calm can be a great resource for guided meditation exercises wherever you are.

Whatever your new coping mechanism, do your best to channel the energy that once went into feeding your bad habit into something that will positively change your life. Take note of what you are feeling while going through this process.

Conclusion

Mindfulness can help beat bad habits if you are willing to recognize that you have a problem. Once you have admitted that your habit is negative to yourself, then you can start being mindful of the problem and replacing the bad habit with good habits.

Practicing mindfulness in your everyday life can also generally cut down on stress and physical problems. Breathing exercises are one of the ways I practice mindfulness throughout the week.

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