If you’re trying to kick a bad habit, try rewarding yourself with something in its place rather than punishing yourself when you fail. Habits are often so rooted in our subconscious that we don’t even realise we’re doing them, which can make stopping one that’s bad for us especially hard to handle.
Business Insider recently spoke with Yale psychologist John Bargh who tried to get rid of one of has own bad habits: drinking. After driving from Tennessee to New York at high speed just so he could make it home in time to hit the liquor store, Bargh realised he needed to make a change, but he wasn’t exactly sure how to handle it.
He got rid of all his booze, of course, but he also started reaching for something else: Tootsie Pops.
Whenever he got a hankering for a drink, he would enjoy a lollipop instead. With that, instead of punishing himself for wanting the drink he was indulging in a little bit of sugar when he did – and creating a new habit.
Behaviour changes that are rooted in regret or fear don’t usually work. Bargh got the idea for his lollipop habit from a friend that suggested his desire for wine was actually a sugar craving. So, instead of satisfying that will booze, he was giving his hands and mouth something else to do with a lollipop.
Albeit, then he was likely left with a candy habit rather than a drinking one, but the idea is sound.
Habit expert Wendy Wood from the University of Southern California told Business Insider that it can take anywhere between a couple of weeks to more than 250 days to form a new habit. If you switch one habit like drinking with something else you enjoy then you won’t have to rely as much on self-control to reach your goal, instead just like that bad habit the new one will feel automatic.
As for Bargh and his candy, he says that while it became a habit like the drinking he eventually got to a point he didn’t like it anymore so he quit eating it. However, when he did his drinking habit didn’t return.