Why are habits so hard to break?
Changing habits can be a difficult task, especially when you find out why we have them.
Asked by: Louise Coe, Bicester
Habits are behaviours that we perform automatically, especially in response to a prompt, such as a particular place or time of day. They’re so tricky to break because they usually happen without any thought, a bit like a reflex. One solution is to identify the trigger that cues your habit, and either avoid it somehow (for example, don’t leave the biscuit tin out on display), or plan in advance an alternative action, known as an ‘if-then plan’, such as “If I see a croissant in the cafe, then I will buy an apple instead.” Easier said than done!
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Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.
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