Want to break a habit? Use the 3D approach: delay, distract and decide

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Everyone needs tips for breaking bad habits, whether it is smoking, biting their nails or eating junk food. But what’s the best way to overcome our cravings?

Katie Valentino, a behavioral health peer support specialist for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, urges people to try the 3D approach: Delay, Distract, and Decide.

“Think of the 3D approach as a tool kit for handling those urges or impulses,” Katie explains. “Pick a habit that you want to break and give it a try.”

The 3D approach

Katie Valentino: Breaking a habit is hard! Behaviors – whether good or bad – become ingrained in our neural pathways because of repeated practice. The brain creates an association between the habit and the relief or reward that it provides. It almost makes the behavior automatic. Plus, the company you keep can reinforce the behavior. For instance, if you hang out with people who all practice the same habit, it’s harder to break out of it.

Here’s how to put the 3Ds to work:

Delay the gratification

The first step is to delay giving into the impulse or craving. Hit the pause button. Tell yourself that you are going to wait a little bit, even just 5-10 minutes. This short amount of waiting time is your chance to make it past the initial urge.

Distract yourself

You’ve waited a few minutes to try resisting the initial craving. Now it’s time to distract yourself. Do something else that you need to do or something that will take your mind off the craving. Some people find it helpful to choose a physical distraction that uses up some of their energy. Go for a walk, listen to a new playlist, tackle a chore, or call a friend – anything that shifts your gears away from the habit.

Decide how to proceed

After delaying and distracting yourself, it’s time to think about what you really want to do. You may find that after you take a distraction break, you can decide how to proceed in a more clear-eyed way. If you’re tempted to give in, remind yourself why you want to break this habit. You can even make a pro-con list if it helps.

Don’t give up

Katie Valentino: Don’t get discouraged if you stumble. Remember: the habit is ingrained, so it can be challenging to retrain your brain. When you hit a bump or take a step backward, it’s important to be kind to yourself. Setbacks are a normal part of the journey. The key is not to see the slip-up as a failure. Instead, view it as a learning opportunity. Each time you “fail,” you can learn something new about your cravings and what strategies might work better the next time.

Instead of getting down on yourself, refocus and plan your next step. Keep your goals realistic, break them down into small and manageable steps, and then celebrate the small victories along the way. You can also ask for help from your friends, family, or your healthcare provider.

“Remember, persistence is key,” says Katie Valentino. “Regardless of the outcome, every attempt is a step forward.”

Katie Valentino’s story of addressing anxiety and depression

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.