New ways to change bad habits and create positive ones
Everyone has habits that aren’t particularly productive, but changing them can be a challenge without some help. That’s why web-based and mobile apps exist to help you disconnect from bad habits, so you can establish positive ones. Learn the science for how we develop habits, and check out our favorite apps for helping you overcome undesirable tendencies.
The science of habit formation
Habits are complex. Experts say that several signaling mechanisms in the brain are responsible for habit formation. Perhaps that’s why certain behaviors can be so hard to change.
It’s not necessary to change every habit. In fact, some habits help people and animals survive. However, research shows that habitual behaviors go through different brain channels than goal-oriented actions.
Healthy humans can usually shift between goal-directed and habit-oriented activities. For example, you might drive home from work on autopilot every day. You don’t have to think about where to turn; you simply turn the music up and drive. However, if you run into traffic, you might rethink your actions because the goal is to find a route that isn’t backed up.
The ability to be flexible is important because life doesn’t always go according to plan. Routines are also vital to living efficiently without overthinking everything. Sometimes, the balance isn’t so equalized. Your habits take over, and you find it difficult to veer from the path even if it’s not healthy, productive or efficient.
Breaking bad habits and establishing positive ones
One of the keys to breaking bad habits is establishing good ones instead. If you can replace negative patterns with positive ones, you’re more likely to continue down the more beneficial path. That’s easier said than done.
For years, experts have known that habits are linked with rewards. That’s a tricky concept because some rewards, such as getting a surge of feel-good chemicals through the brain after eating chocolate cake, set you up to continue unhealthy behaviors.
Some scientists say that the combination of a personal cue and an intrinsic reward is necessary to establish a solid habit.
Personal rewards are different for everyone. One person might find exercise helpful because it instantly reduces stress. Another may enjoy going to the gym because of the social aspect. Making yourself aware of the reward you plan to obtain can help make performing a desirable behavior better than the alternative.
The cue is also important. If you need to feel energized to go for a walk on a cold, dark morning, think about signals that energize you at other times. Upbeat music or a deep, refreshing breath of fresh air might get you out the door.
Conversely, when you’re trying to break a habit, removing that cue is important. If you’re used to smoking a cigarette when you get in the car, for example, try arming yourself with distractions, such as snacks and gum, which will get in the way of the habit messaging in your brain. You might also try to drive down different streets than usual to keep the goal-oriented part of your brain occupied.
8 Top Apps for Changing Habits
The apps below incorporate some of these ideas to help you with breaking bad habits and building beneficial ones. Using technology can help you repeat desired behaviors and curtail unwanted actions. It can take as many as 66 days or more to form good habits, and as few as two days to establish bad ones. Using an app regularly may be a habit you want to institute.
This app is useful if you know that you want to establish positive habits but don’t know where to start. You can choose from the preset list that Goalify offers or customize the app with your own ideas.
This is one of the most streamlined apps available for changing habits. All you have to do is enter the activity, indicate how often you want to do it and let the app know when you’ve done it. You’ll get reminders if you fall behind. You can also go more in depth, using the analytics feature.
This free app is popular for tracking your habits and reaching your goals. You can think of it as a productivity tool because all of the habits are framed as goals.
You approach changing bad habits in the same way that you work on cultivating new habits. For example, if you want to exercise on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, you can set that up. If you want to avoid doing something, such as checking your social media account every day, you can also set that up.
You’ll record what you’ve achieved; the app sends you reminders, turns your data into graphs and stores everything in one tidy place. If accountability is important for you, you can turn to the discussion groups to get some support.
What makes this app different is that it separates your habits into categories based on when you want to do them. It also turns them into actionable tasks.
These features allow you to spread out the activities that are necessary to complete a goal throughout the day instead of bustling around to do them all at once. If you save your goal-oriented behaviors until right before you go to sleep, you may have trouble feeling good about them, which can get in the way of developing good habits.
If you have a big milestone to hurdle, Strides can help you reach your goal. It breaks down large objectives into smaller undertakings.
Trying to make a huge breakthrough can be daunting. Separating a massive mission into practical, measurable steps allows you to maintain momentum. You can reward yourself every time you achieve one of the smaller targets, so you don’t become discouraged as you strive toward the ultimate goal.
Strides can be useful if you’re trying to save a large chunk of money. It also helps you develop habits that are necessary to complete a major project.
People who love the reward that comes from winning might prefer Habitica. The app transforms your life into a video game. Your habits, to-dos, tasks and daily routines become enemies you have to defeat. You progress in the game as you move forward with your life.
As you play, you can unlock rewards and discover random prizes. You can also compete with family and friends, which can be an added motivator.
Habitica gives you a reason to keep using the app to improve your life. It also provides instant gratification, which is important for some people who find themselves having trouble coming up with an intrinsic reward to maintain positive habits.
Are you trying to manage a few new habits at a time? This app is a great place to start. It only lets you input up to 12 habits at a time. That can prevent you from overwhelming yourself and burning out.
It also syncs to your iOS Health app. That makes it ideal for tracking physical activity for wellness-oriented goals.
Streaks rewards you for completing a task every day. Some researchers say that consistency is a key to forming good habits. Don’t break the chain and watch the streak extend.
Daybook is a user-friendly app that helps you keep track of important activities. It’s so streamlined that you won’t get sucked into spending hours working with it.
It differs from some of the other apps because it lets you add notes to each item. The notes section can help you keep track of things such as books you want to read, items you can’t forget to grab when you head to the gym and yoga videos you love on YouTube.
For some people, maintaining a rhythm is all about staying accountable. This web-based community is less of an app and more like social media for habits. You publish three goals on the site, and you can see how many other people are working toward the same objectives. Having support can supply the inspiration you need to keep moving forward.
If reading about these apps is getting you motivated to improve your life by changing your habits, try one. You can’t change anything if you don’t take action.