Why is it so hard for us to break habits? Experts say it is because the brain drives us to seek reward. This pleasure-seeking compels us to pursue the doughnut over an apple and hit the snooze button rather than get up.

Not all habits are bad. Daily routines like getting up at the same time and following the same route to work make our lives easier. So how do we help our brains change bad habits?

There are six universally recognized phases for changing behavior:

  1. Precontemplation – Despite what friends and family say, we don’t think we have a problem or need to change.
  2. Contemplation – We are thinking about the need to change.
  3. Determination — This phase is also known as preparation. We talk to people we trust (physicians, therapists, friends and family) to help us prepare to make change. We pick the day to start our diet, quit smoking or begin exercising, as examples.
  4. Action – This is where we start our changes and work toward our goal.
  5. Maintenance – we’ve reached our goal. Maintaining change requires us to find motivation to continue our new habit.
  6. Relapse — We need to look at relapse as temporary and not a failure. The worst thing to do is to become discouraged and give up. When we look a relapse as part of change, we are more likely to return to our desired behaviors. It’s important to anticipate the possibility of relapse and identify what to do when it happens. What are our triggers and obstacles? How can we plan to overcome them? It’s important to enlist the support of friends and family, and find healthy ways to reward ourselves when we do succeed.

Counseling & Recovery’s mental health and substance abuse professionals help people create positive change every day. If you know someone who needs help in achieving their goals, please have them call us.