How is it possible to restructure automatic habits?
October 8, 2010 9:27 AM   Subscribe

How is it possible to restructure automatic habits?

I've noticed that there are certain things that I've done the same way thousands of times - certain everyday tasks that have been paired with a very precise routine. When I wanted to do those tasks somewhat differently, change the order and timing, I've noticed that I still fall into the old pattern. What are some good ways to shake off that old pattern? (I dislike those times when I'm doing something in that old habitual way, even though I wanted to do it differently.)
posted by gregb1007 to Grab Bag (4 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
See this recent overview from the British Psychological Society.
posted by proj at 9:36 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Break down the process of the habit into individual actions, and change or interrupt at least one of those steps/actions.

For example, if you had a habit of always sitting in front of the tv with a box of crackers and eating three servings' worth because you're not paying attention, you could divide the box of crackers into individual servings in their own containers upon bringing it home from the store, and then when you sit in front of the tv, have only one serving in front of you. That kind of thing.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:08 AM on October 8, 2010

This article mentions training of significant others, but at least the bit about incompatible behaviour should be adaptable for self-training.
posted by Triton at 10:16 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's making me ccrazy that I can't remember this, but when I was quitting smoking many years ago I came across an mnemonic that emphasized steps to take to change a habit. The first part was catching yourself consciously as you do it, which is the hardest part. We don't notice our habitual actions, and in order to stop them, you have to notice that you're doing them again. So the mnemonic was STOP, and I think the steps were something like:

S-Stop what you're doing, notice yourself repeating your habit
T-Think about what got you started repeating the habitual action. Take a minute to breathe. Were you triggered in some way by stress or tiredness or emotions? Also think about why you're trying to change the behavior, think about how you will feel when you are successful, and think of some different choices you could make right now.
O -Opt for one of those different choices instead of indulging in your habit
P - this one I'm least sure about. It could have been Practice, as in keep making these other choices over and over until it feels natural, which is one part of habit breaking - sheer repetition. Or it could have been Praise yourself for making a different choice. Don't recall.

Anyway, little structures like this really helped me.
posted by Miko at 11:25 AM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

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