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How to change a gambling habit

There are lots of reasons people gamble. One might be that it’s something you’ve ‘always’ done, a habit you associate with good memories. But if it’s not fun anymore, or worse, it’s causing negative side effects, you might be ready to rethink your gambling.

Changing a habit involves recognising the feelings that lead to a specific action, like gambling, and then retraining your brain to respond differently to those feelings.

This may sound complicated, but in reality it’s just about finding alternative activities to gambling that fulfil your needs without causing you or anyone else harm.

To be effective, though, it’s important that you’re honest with yourself about your gambling triggers and the rewards you seek.

For example, if the knowledge that your pay has been deposited into your bank account acts as a trigger for you to gamble beyond your means, you can put in place measures to lessen the risks.

You might set up auto transfers to ensure your bills are paid and savings put aside before you can withdraw money for other activities. You might also make plans to ensure you are busy on paydays so that your mind is preoccupied with thoughts other than gambling.

Or perhaps the motivation for you to gamble is the enjoyment you get from the social aspects of going to a venue, but the downside is that you often end up losing more money than you can afford.

You can change this habit by planning ahead so that when you feel like company, you have a readymade list of other activities to choose from that offer the social reward you desire without the risk of financial loss.

Some ideas to get you started might include: calling a friend; attending to a virtual trivia night; taking a class; joining an online forum; or taking a walk in the local park.

Small changes can lead to bigger wins

Ever tried to make a dramatic change – like lose a significant amount of weight or quit smoking – only to find nothing happened? That’s because, more often than not, people set goals that are too ambitious or unrealistic to achieve in a single attempt.

Success is much more likely via small, incremental changes that, cumulatively, equate to a much bigger win. For example, to reduce your gambling spend, try this approach.

Imagine all the things you could do if you had some savings, then choose one to focus on in the short-term, such as a restaurant dinner, a family outing or another treat.

At the end of each day, empty your pockets or purse of any small change and put it in a jar labelled with your goal. Make this a routine – something you do at the same time everyday and that you associate with a regular activity, like changing your clothes after work or cleaning your teeth before going to bed.

It’s unlikely you will miss this money, which would probably otherwise be lost to gambling. Over time, though, the small change you save each day will gradually build up until you can afford your goal. That’s when you can enjoy your reward, and then start over, perhaps with a bigger or longer term goal, like a weekend away or a new outfit.

It’s important to congratulate yourself each time you add money to your savings jar – verbally and with conviction – because every small win is worth celebrating. Your brain will register this as a success, reinforcing your achievement and motivating you to keep going.

Making new habits stick

It’s important to understand that giving up old habits, like gambling, and replacing them with new ones can be challenging and you’re bound to experience some setbacks along the way.

Everyone has good days and bad days; the trick is not to let a slip-up defeat you. Don’t beat yourself up if you give into the urge to have a flutter on the pokies. It’s not the end of the world or a sign that you should give up. Instead, accept what’s happened, put it aside and start again.

It can be helpful to imagine the outcome you want to achieve – perhaps it’s a family holiday, a healthy retirement account balance or a family dinner without any arguments – and visualise it as often as possible to stay on course.

Make a point of congratulating yourself on achieving milestones, like seven consecutive days without a bet or sticking to the budget you set yourself to reduce your gambling spend. And mark the occasion with a small reward, like a celebratory chocolate or a bubble bath.

The acts of visualising the achievement of a goal and celebrating milestones will strengthen your resolve to incorporate new habits into your life. They will also teach your brain to associate a new routine with positive feelings.

It takes patience, time and practice to change habitual behaviours, so try to be realistic, forgive any missteps you might make, and remember that you’re on a journey towards an outcome that you desire.