A Simple Tool to Break Old Habits

A Simple Tool to Break Old Habits

As we go about daily life, we spend a great deal of time in what researchers call ‘autopilot mode’. That is, we’re not truly present because our attention is lost in wandering thoughts.

This matters because on autopilot mode we tend to get caught in the same old habits, reactive patterns, and thinking patterns over and over again in loops, even if they are unhelpful, ineffective, or just plain bad for us.

So in this post, I’ll share a simple tool to help break old habits, called a habit releaser. The tool comes from a book called Mindfulness, A Practical Guide to Finding Peace In A Frantic World co-authored by Professor Mark Williams of Oxford University. I love it because it’s powerful, easy to deploy and it unlocks more enjoyment and spice in life. Press play on my latest podcast, or keep reading, to find out how to use this great mental strength tool in your life.

Breaking the habit of autopilot mode

Happiness research conducted by Harvard Psychologists Matt Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, revealed that most people spend almost half of the day (47.9%) on autopilot – lost in thinking about something else other than what we are actually doing. Unfortunately, this mind-wandering was found to be the main root cause of unhappiness for people.

The challenge with being on autopilot mode a lot is that we tend to live out of habit and reactivity instead of living deliberately. Importantly, we also just go through the motions only half here and we miss out on being fully present for moments, for our loved ones, for our lives. So life can start to feel quite dull. We keep playing out the same mental, emotional, and behavioural patterns even if they may not be good for us or helpful. Addictions, bad habits, boring routines, and unhelpful mental emotional patterns – all of these can be explained by a habit of autopilot living.

Much of our automaticity is shown in the fact that we tend to do the same thing day in and day out, in the same way. You know, we sit in the same seat at the dining table, we go the same route to work, we do the same thing when we wake up (for many of us it’s grabbing the phone) and we use the same coffee cup. We go to a lot of the same places and do the same things.

How a habit releaser can help

So the idea of a habit releaser is, you’re going to begin to deliberately break the chain of habitual things that you do each day. In doing that, you’ll be bringing more awareness to them. Which in turn interrupts the habit of just playing out the usual patterns – whether they be mental, emotional, or behavioural.

For example, you might choose to sit in a different chair at the table or in the living room, or on the train or bus. Or sleep on the other side of the bed at night. Take a different route to work. Go to a different place for lunch.

It might mean doing something different when you first wake up. If you usually grab a coffee or your iPhone, try walking outside or just waiting 10 minutes before doing that thing.

Other habit releasers you can try are:

  • Brushing your teeth with a different hand.
  • Walking or driving a different way to work.
  • If you find yourself lost in your thoughts during the day, try physically stopping and looking around you at your surroundings – taking a deep breath before proceeding.
  • You could try a food or a restaurant you’ve never tried before.
  • If you really want to get creative, you can interrupt thinking patterns by simply just noticing when you’re thinking the same kind of things you always think. And instead, just being playful and trying a different way of seeing things or thinking.

A mental strength practice to try for 7 days

So I invite you to give this a try in your own life in the week ahead. Have a little experiment with it, and have some fun with it. Just see if you can do at least three things differently from your usual routine.

I hope you find benefit in this practice. I think you’ll find that if you continuously use these habit releasers you can bring more awareness, intention, and fun into your life. If variety is the spice of life, then repeating the same patterns is probably dampening that spice. So try it out – bring in some variety, shake it up, wake it up, and live a little less on autopilot and a little more with intention, awareness, and a sense of adventure.

I’d love to hear how it goes for you so feel free to share your stories and wins with me on socials, I love hearing from you. Wishing you a great week with this practice.

How can I deepen my mental strength practice?

Why not try my free 5-day mental strength challenge? You can start it right away, and it’s designed to give you quick wins in your mental strength, well-being, happiness, and resilience.

Get ongoing support for transforming your state of mind, in the Mental Strength School. For just a dollar a day, join Melli and other like-minded community members who are committed to mental strength practice. With access to powerful, evidence-based tools and techniques that will give you the unshakable inner strength you need to step into the best version of yourself.

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