Small Delays the Key to Habit Breaking

By | April 17, 2013

20130417-085412.jpgOur brains are hard-wired to appreciate immediate benefits more than even bigger rewards later on.

Unfortunately, this can lead to problems like overspending, overeating or eating the wrong things, drug abuse, and more. Scientific American offers a few suggestions for “fixing this glitch,” including waiting just five minutes before indulging.

If you just wait five minutes before indulging in a chocolate bar or purchasing a pricey necklace or making any other stupid move, you’ll want that indulgence significantly less, about half as much, as you did just five minutes before. That minor postponement helps level the playing field, giving the longer-term health or financial benefit a fighting chance.

For long-term habit building (and breaking), it’s good to have a plan for changing them. That might now include delaying bad habits to make them less valuable. …

Breaking a bad habit or developing a good one might be hard work, but it’s not impossible. In fact, once you know the main structure of habits, you can develop a plan to change them. This flowchart from The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg guides you through the three steps of breaking the habit loop.


This is a universal approach to any habit you want to replace, since habits all share basic characteristics: a cue or trigger and a reward that perpetuates the routine. (We’ve mentioned a similar approach before–breaking habits with an “if-then plan”.) To change the habit, the flowchart helps you think through what you’re feeling and thinking during each stage of the habit, then substitute the old reward and old routine with new ones. It’s a great visual tool to help you practice until you have your new habit loop (or the right “keystone” habits, as Duhigg has explained in full here before) established.

Try it today. Simply delay your impulse to act on negative habits and act more impulsively on positive habits. While you delay those 5 minutes, or count to ten as the old wisdom says, notice your emotions and how your body feels.

This is not easy, but do it anyway. Hacking ones own desires is the path of a real warrior. Exercise your willpower, change negative temptations. Can you?

If you have an impulse to do something healthy, on the other hand, act on it quickly. Workable replacement behaviors are needed as you adjust your routines and rewards.

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