Your habits make you who you are. They are automatic behaviors that take you in specific directions in life. So an unhealthy habit could make you ill and ruin your relationships, whereas a healthy habit might improve your happiness and success. Nonetheless, it’s not always easy to develop a new habit and shift old ingrained behaviors. You can take steps to cement the habits you want to keep, though. Here’s how.

Recognize habit loops

Neuroscience shows that habits follow a pattern or loop. No matter what your habits are, they involve these three steps:

1) Trigger

2) Routine

3) Reward

Something in your experience, either external or internal, triggers your habits. An internal cue could be an emotion or thought, and an external trigger may be an event or a particular time. So, if you usually eat a snack at 10 a.m., your system will remind you to eat at the right time everyday.

You then carry out a routine behavior. In this example, you eat a snack, and your system enjoys pleasure, which is your reward.

Recognize the stages involved in your habits to help you quit them. Identify the habit you want to break and trace it back to what triggers it. Then you can use mindfulness to change your behavior and swap the bad habit with a healthier one.

Use mindfulness to break your bad habits

Mindfulness involves momentbymoment awareness. If you are mindful of something, you are alert and tuned into it. Being mindful can help you recognize when you are likely to encounter a trigger.

For example, if you know you want to stop eating junk food at 10 a.m., you could prepare a healthier snack to munch on when the urge to eat strikes. In this example, you replace the unwanted behavior of eating junk food with a wholesome alternative. Swapping an old habit for a healthy one is often the best way to meet your goal.

Another example could be if you want to stop chewing your lip or fingernails when stress arises. Once you identify stress as the trigger, you can be mindful to replace the behavior with a better habit when you are anxious. You could take deep, calming breaths or put a few drops of relaxing essential oils in a diffuser to fill the air.

Boost your motivation

High motivation can help you replace bad habits. You might want to quit an old behavior, but how much does changing mean to you? Having a good reason to stop will boost your incentive to change.

Consider what quitting a bad habit will do for you. How will your life change for the better? You might be healthier, happier, or fitter, for instance.

Keep a habit change diary and write about what you want to stop doing and why. Picture how different your life will be once unwanted habits are out of the way, and your motivation will rise.

Changing bad habits and cementing new ones can be difficult. You can ease the process, though. Know what triggers unwanted behavior and identify a new habit you prefer. Be kind to yourself if you slip up or don’t achieve your goal fast. Expect it to take a while to break your bad habits. Persevere, and you will succeed.

Reference: Gdt.stanford.edu/thehabitloop, (the science of habit loops).