February Wellness Challenge: Break a Bad Habit

How to Break a Bad Habit

I’m excited about February’s wellness challenge because it’s one I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and if I have all of you holding me accountable, maybe it will actually happen once and for all.

This month is all about breaking a bad habit. 

So it was truly kismet when I made a new friend last month (one of the moms from Amalia’s daycare) who is a psychology professor and researcher who studies…wait for it…habits and self-control. I mean I couldn’t have met her at a better time, right? I picked her brain about the topic and learned a few things about bad habits and how to break them. But first, let’s recap last month’s challenge.

Dry January Recap

I’ve done Dry January many times in the past, but for some reason this time felt even better than usual. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard after week one, but physically I’ve never felt better. I don’t really drink that much but apparently even a few drinks per week make a bigger difference than I thought:

My sinuses are totally clear. I realize this isn’t something that everyone can relate to, but if you have any sinus issues, taking alcohol completely out of the mix makes a huge difference. This was far and away the most exciting side effect of my Dry January. I always knew that the morning after a glass of wine I would feel more stuffed up, but I didn’t realize that a full month off would allow me to breathe 100% clearly. Literally I don’t remember the last time I blew my nose which, for me, is quite the achievement.

I have more energy. I fine that I wake up every morning with more energy and less fogginess. And my 3pm slump doesn’t feel so slumpy. That’s a word, right?

I’ve lost weight. I wasn’t actually trying to lose any weight but when I went to my J.Crew Factory event earlier in the month, I realized that I didn’t fit into my usual jean size so I sized down. I didn’t totally believe it so I tried on another brand of jeans and it was the same story. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so fit and strong. Part of that is my weekly workouts but I think cutting out alcohol amplified this in a big way… Which is kind of shocking because I ate a lot more sugar than usual.

The other thing I have to admit is that I did have one drink when my sister was visiting. We went to one of my favorite local restaurants (Kawa Ni) which makes my favorite local drink (The Kyushiki which is basically an Old Fashioned made with smoked soy sauce), and it was a really fun night so I decided to go for it. The point of these challenges is to feel good and that one drink made me feel good! That said, I did notice a big difference in my energy the next morning so that was the only slip up.

On February 1st, I went out for drinks with some friends and woke up on Saturday morning with a headache and feeling terrible. This challenge really opened my eyes as to how much alcohol effects my physical state. I don’t plan to keep it cut out forever, but I’m hoping that I’ll be more thoughtful about when and how much I drink going forward.

February Wellness Challenge: Break a Bad Habit

As you may have guessed by my super awkward photo, the habit that I’m going to try and break this month is biting my hangnails. It’s a disgusting habit that I’ve had for years and it’s 1000% tied to anxiety. When I’m feeling anxious or nervous, I bite them to the point where they bleed. Sorry, I know that’s so gross! I literally go through boxes of Band-Aids like a crazy person because of it. More often than not, I have a Band-Aid wrapped around my thumb. It’s also part of the reason why I get manicures so often. Having my nails painted stops me somewhat from the biting for whatever reason.

I was going to try and break multiple bad habits as a part of this challenge, but I realized I want to nip this in the bud for real this time, and if it works, I can continue with another habit next.

Anel is also joining me in this challenge and will be working to break his habit of snacking at night.

Steps to Break a Bad Habit

I spent last week reading a bunch of articles and blog posts on breaking bad habits and pulled bits and pieces from the ones I liked (sourced below if you want to read more on the topic) to create a list of tips. Then I did a little interview with my new friend Jessica, the psychology professor, to fill in the blanks.

The biggest lesson that I learned in this mini research project are that habits are really just behavior patterns and the key to breaking the bad habit itself is to break the patterns and basically rewire your brain into working with new patterns.

1. Identify your trigger. Pretty much everything I read noted that identifying what triggers these patterns should be the first step in breaking them. Is it stress? Your environment? The time of day? What is going on for you when you start doing whatever it is you’re trying to stop? If you don’t already know what is triggering your behavior, take note of your thoughts next time it starts. Take note of what you’re feeling, where you are, and what time of day it is.

Julia: For me, I know my trigger is stress or anxiety. I often don’t even realize I’m doing it, but when I do notice, it’s always during a tough time.

Anel: What’s interesting about Anel’s late-night snacking is that when I asked him if he’s hungry when he does it, he said not really. It’s just a part of his routine and he’s become used to it. So although he hasn’t quite figured it out yet, we’re working on identifying his trigger and will report back.

2. Focus on that trigger. While you’re working on breaking the habit, simultaneously focus on fixing whatever is triggering you. Because the trigger usually goes hand in hand with the habit, this step is crucial in making a lasting change.

Julia: Since I’ve gone on medication, I’ve noticed that I’ve been biting my hangnails less. I haven’t completely stopped, but it’s definitely less. So I have kind of an unfair advantage here because I’ve already started dealing with my trigger itself. But going deeper, it’s usually work or finance related stress or anxiety that causes me to start biting. So one of my big goals this month is to figure out how to deal with work in a healthy way and really get on top of our family budgets.

Anel: We’ll update you once we get there for him!

3. Replace a bad habit with a good one. I love this step because it is similar to something I practice in therapy where when I have an anxious thought, I try to replace it with a positive one. After doing it many times, I’ve really started to believe my new thoughts, even though at first they were just words.

Julia: An example of this in my bad habit situation might be when I go to bite my nail, I catch myself, stop the routine, and instead do five jumping jacks. Obviously that’s a silly thing to do but it’s drastic enough that it would make me think twice about biting in the first place. A more realistic new habit might be to take a deep breath instead.

Anel: His plan is to drink a glass of water whenever he gets up for his snack and catches himself in the act. Simple but hopefully effective. Even though he has yet to identify his trigger, he can still work on breaking the habit with this step.

So will you join us for this month’s wellness challenge? If so, what is the habit that you would like to break?


TIME: 5 Science-Approved Ways to Break a Bad Habit
Psychology Today: How to Break Bad Habits
Life Hacker: Top 10 Ways to Break Bad Habits
Mindful.org: A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit

Photo by Julia Dags.

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