5 Strategies For Stopping Unhelpful Behaviors

strategies for stopping unhelpful behaviors

To create a hard stop, be intentional about how it is going to happen. Don’t leave it to chance by just having a vague wish to change a behavior—have a concrete plan that you can implement consistently and put in place anything that will aid you and make it easier to follow through.

For example, if you want to go to bed by 10:30 and you know you get caught in TV shows that are hard to disconnect from, decide exactly what and how much you are going to watch before you sit down and turn the TV on. Figure out when you need to stop in order to give yourself enough time to unwind and get ready for bed. Set an alarm for the time you decide the TV will be turned off.

If you know that you often snack on unhealthy foods late at night, make a point of brushing your teeth immediately after dinner to make it less likely that you will want to eat after that. Prepare some healthy snacks that are readily available and easy to grab if the late-night munchies overpower you.

3. Flip It. Work With Your Reward System. 

Instead of seeing this hard stop as taking away something, see it as adding something. Remind yourself of why you are doing this, focus on the reward of this hard stop, and identify what you want to move toward (rather than focusing on what you have to move away from).

For example, instead of focusing on “I have to turn the TV off at 10:00” focus on the fact that “I get to have a good night’s sleep tonight, give my body the rest it needs, and be my best self tomorrow.” Doing this helps to build a natural reward for yourself.

Thank your old brain for trying to help you survive, but remind yourself that you have more newly evolved parts of your brain that can actually help you more.

4. Rehearse. Strengthen The Reward. 

Visualize in your mind the outcome that you want, and take a moment to feel any positive emotions of this in your body. For example, you might visualize turning off the TV at the time you say, having a relaxing bedtime ritual of unwinding, and getting a good night’s sleep waking up refreshed and energized.

Picture this and imagine how this will feel as if you could experience this now. Create a felt sense of this positive emotion in your body and stay with this feeling for a minute or more. Magnify the feeling of reward to help override the pull of the old behavior.

Related: 30 Morning Affirmations To Boost Your Confidence Daily

5. Treat The “Old” Brain Like A Small Child, With A Firm Hand Of Self-Compassion. 

When I was having some difficulty in meditating consistently (by getting pulled away by all of the other things that I needed to do in the day), one of my beloved meditation teachers suggested engaging the “firm hand of self-compassion.”

As I wrote about in a previous blog, self-compassion versus self-criticism is much more motivating in changing behaviors. However, sometimes it can be helpful to engage a firm (but still caring) compassionate voice.

Think of this as a parent lovingly holding a child’s well-being in mind when it sets a clear boundary: “I know you really want to play outside now, but we are going to stay inside because there is lightning right now and it is not safe outdoors.” This might mean that the parent needs to be willing to tolerate the child’s upset in the service of what they know is best for the child. This too can be done firmly but lovingly. “I know you are feeling very disappointed right now because you were really looking forward to going out. It’s OK that you feel that way. I understand. But let’s find something indoors that you can do instead.”

Try being the firm but loving parent when it comes to working with the impulsive self that wants immediate gratification. Treat this part of your brain like a small child that needs to be guided in a nurturing way.

While the pull of the survival brain and our automatic habits can be quite strong, our ability to learn new things and use reward-based learning to our advantage is also part of our evolutionary inheritance. Try using all five of these strategies in combination to help override the power of immediate gratification and strengthen the rewards that come from listening to your wise self that truly does know best.


Written by:Beth Kurland
Originally appeared on:Psychology Today
Republished with permission
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5 Strategies For Stopping Unhelpful Behaviors
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Beth Kurland

Beth Kurland, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, author, and public speaker with over 20 years of experience. With a passion for and expertise in mindfulness and mind-body strategies, she helps people across the lifespan to achieve whole-person health and wellness. Her newest book is Dancing on the Tightrope: Transcending the Habits of Your Mind and Awakening to Your Fullest Life. She is also the author of the award-winning books The Transformative Power of Ten Minutes: An Eight Week Guide to Reducing Stress and Cultivating Well-Being (Finalist in the Health and Wellness category by Next Generation Indie Book Awards) and Gifts of the Rain Puddle: Poems, Meditations, and Reflections for the Mindful Soul (Winner in Gift/Novelty book category by Next Generation Indie Book Awards). Drawing on research and practices from mindfulness, neuroscience, positive psychology, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, she teaches people how to grow the inner resources for resiliency and well-being. On her website, BethKurland.com, she offers many short, free meditation audios and videos that people can incorporate into their day.View Author posts