How to Break Bad Habits: Tips For Sticking With It

Habits are hard to break, especially if they are bad ones. However, it is not impossible. So here are tips and tricks on how you can break a bad habit and stick with it.

Everyone has habits, but that does not mean every single one of them has something inherently wrong with them. Even weird habits like laying out what you are going to wear on the night before going out are called planning. Or even automatically turning the lights and fans off when you leave the room saves electricity and cost. However, some habits cause more harm than good. Habits like drinking too much caffeine, biting your nails when you are nervous, or hitting snooze too many times when waking up will cost you so much in life even if they seem pretty harmless at first.

Breaking unwanted and harmful habits might seem challenging and it usually is. But bad habits sometimes hold us back in our lives and careers, so it is important to do so. Habits, especially if you are engaging them for a long time, take much determination and patience to break off. What makes it a little more easier and sustainable is understanding why you have developed these habits in the first place. Understanding the triggers makes the route clearer. So let’s see how you can break off a bad habit and stick with it for the rest of your life.

Understanding why habits are formed

Before we move onto the manual of how to break a bad habit, you first need to understand why and how habits are formed in the first place. According to psychologists, habits are acquired behaviors or thought patterns that people repeat so often that they end up becoming automatic. The reason why people develop habits is because they free up their brains so the other things that require undivided attention can be done. Several theories out there support why and how we develop habits. Let’s explore them.

  • Reminder or trigger – this is considered a cue or a trigger that can be related to conscious behavior, including flushing the toilet, or a feeling like nervousness.
  • Routine – this is often the behavior that is associated with that trigger your brain gets. Just like when you flush the toilet your brain gets cues to wash your hands, or when you are feeling nervous you start to bite your nails.
  • Reward – the reward that is associated with the trigger or behavior makes it stick and it transforms into a habit. When you do something that makes you feel joy or relieves your stress, your brain releases pleasurable dopamine that makes you want to do it again. That is how you end up in a cycle of habits.

How can you change bad habits?  

There is a high chance that you have a bad habit that you would like to change. It could be your habit of procrastination, saying yes to everything, excessive screen time, or giving in to anger. At first, these habits might not bother you, or make you feel that there is something wrong that you need to correct. but, eventually, you will reach a breaking point where you will think, “Enough is enough.” Sooner or later these bad habits will start to bother your close ones, your family, or co-workers. Or, perhaps it has started to bother you or hold you back from achieving career and personal goals. Whatever the reason is, it is time to break the bad habits. The strategies below will help you do so and following this will make you stick to the habit of not repeating your bad habits.

  1. Identifying the root causes

Triggers are the first step in developing a habit, be it a good or a bad one. So when you start your journey of breaking a bad habit, it would also be the first step to identify what caused it in the first place. This means finding out what your triggers are. So let’s start with examining yourself and your habits for a few days. This will give you a chance to see whether your bad habit is following any pattern or not. When you are on this journey, not a few things like –

  • Where does your habit occur?
  • What time of the day are you most likely to practice the habit?
  • How do you feel when you practice?
  • Is there anyone else involved in your habit practice?
  • How does it feel when you do it? What is the “payoff”?

Most of the time, bad habits are developed because people perceive there is something beneficial coming with it. For example, some people smoke because they think it manages their nervousness or overeats to cope with their stress. Similarly, other bad habits develop from cultural or social expectations. For example, the habit of rejecting compliments seems to be common in Western culture because people there think it is a “polite” thing to do.

For you, let’s say that you want to stop staying up past midnight. So first spend a few days tracking your behavior and you will notice this happens because you spend too much time at night watching TV or chatting with friends.  But, you go to bed early if you take a walk or read a book. Here, the trigger is your phone or TV where you spend most of your nighttime.

  1. Enhancing self-awareness

Increasing self-awareness will make you consider what you need to do to make changes. This will give you the best start in this journey. According to experts, people need to find what their dominant tendencies are which translates to the way people respond to situations like deadlines, decision-making, or requests. Each tendency has a different need when it comes to breaking a bad habit. Some people need to make conscious decisions to change and they are successful in it. On the other hand, the other kind of people needs to know about the impact of the habit in order to realize its harmfulness. Another group of people needs someone to hold them accountable and only then they can change. Lastly, a different group of people can change, but on their terms. So you need to be self-aware and identify which group of people you belong to so that you can make the plan accordingly.

  1. Choosing the right approach

When you try to break or change a bad habit, you need some useful tactics. For that, you need to understand what works for you as an individual. You can note down personal preferences by using different strategies of distraction. You might prefer familiarity or novelty, or you are someone who can be either a moderator who can easily cut back on something or an absentee who needs to cut it out entirely. You can be someone who prefers abundance or simplicity, be an early bird or a night owl. Depending on what you are, it will make changes to this journey of breaking a bad habit. For example, if you are someone who prefers novelty, and suppose you want to change the way you eat. So adding something new to your diet every day will help you break the bad habit of eating less nutritious food. On the other hand, if you are someone who prefers simplicity, sticking to a particular diet plan for the entire week will be a better approach, bringing better results.

  1. Making a plan

According to different studies, careful and conscious planning makes it a lot easier to overcome a harmful habit. You can start making a plan through personal goal setting. This will also help you review your progress on a regular basis, at the same time, this will also help you prioritize your damaging habits of yours. When you are done making plans you can further add milestones and other prompts including a to-do list and an action program.

  1. Monitoring yourself

Several pieces of research show that monitoring how you behave on your own is a groundbreaking essential when it comes to leaving a bad habit. One of the great ways of this journaling. For example, if you are quitting smoking, you can make a note of every successful day without a single puff. Watching how you are progressing over time can be really motivational. However, log the other time you did not succeed too while adding your thoughts and feelings when you failed to do so. This will reveal the situations of behaviors that trigger this habit in you. When you can identify those triggers or negative behaviors, you can begin swapping them with positive behaviors. But the most important thing here is to be realistic. Do not expect some instant results as according to research it takes around 66 days for a behavior to become regular and a habit. If you experience a few setbacks along the way, make a note of them. It will help you identify your triggers, helping you to stay away from them in the future.

  1. Practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness helps you develop awareness of your feelings, thoughts, and habits. You do this practice right, simply start to observe the impulses that relate to your bad habit without reacting to them or judging them. Practicing mindfulness also at the same time helps you notice the ways your bad habits impact your daily habits. When you start to recognize these impacts, you might feel more driven and focused on changing your behavior. As you become more aware of the triggers that lead you to reach out to the bad habit, it will be easier for you to consider other options. You may find it easier to avoid reminder cues and not act on the urges.

  1. Replacing bad habits with a good one

Psychologists say that it becomes easier to break a bad habit if you place successful obstacles. This often stops people from automatically carrying out the behavior. You can replace the unwanted behavior with a new, healthier behavior and this becomes easier than simply trying to stop the unwanted behavior. At the same time, you can also make an effort to ignore people, places, and environments that trigger the unwanted behavior. For example, suppose you want to stop munching on candies too much whenever you are hungry at work. If you simply try to avoid eating candies, there is a high chance that you will fall right back into the habit when you are no longer able to resist hunger. Instead what you can do is bring a Tupperware of dry fruits and nuts and keep it on the desk. Here you are giving yourself another, much healthier option to snack on. As you continue to repeat this new behavior, your brain develops the impulse to follow this newly built routine. Eventually, when you start to see rewards from your new habit, such as less sugar crash and more energy, the urge to repeat the bad habit will lessen.

If you stay consistent, this new habit will overweigh the desire to pursue the previous bad habit. At the same time, you can also look for positive behaviors that replace the negative ones. For this work, the replacement must be the underlying payoff or benefit that your old bad habit was giving you. For example, if you want to stop gossiping about your colleagues, or want to become less critical of other people, try flipping the same behavior around and start to praise them instead.

  1. Keep reminding yourself

In this process, you need to continue to remind yourself what you are doing and what are you doing it for. For this, you can use sticky notes, stickers, or any other visual reminders that will help you in situations where the old trigger comes back. For example, if you want to break free from the habit of drinking soda every time you order food, try to leave sticky notes on the refrigerator every time you try to reach for another can. When you try to break the habit of forgetting to turn off lights when you leave the room, leave a note for yourself that says don’t forget the light switch on the switch or door. On the other hand, if you want to start keeping your keys in a designated place so you don’t frequently lose them, leave a dish in the first place you will see when you come back home. You can also get help from smartphones to set reminders. Set the alarm and add a motivating note for yourself, like “After-dinner walk – remember how good it feels!” or “Time to turn off the TV! :)”.

  1. Rewarding yourself

Breaking a habit, especially a bad habit that gives your brain pleasure is a difficult thing to do. So make sure to acknowledge how far you have come and try to reward yourself along the way. As you start to get ahead of the habit, give yourself a treat or reward once in a while so that you feel good and proud of yourself and how much progress you have made. Even small motivators like telling yourself how great you are doing can increase the drive to continue trying and boost your self-confidence. When you start to focus on the progress that you have made, you are less likely to become discouraged along the way and fall back into the same circle of bad habits. At the same time, you are also less likely to engage in negative self-talk that can do heavy numbers on your motivation.

Rewards become most effective when they come following positive behavior. So choose something that you really enjoy and want. Over time, your brain will start associating this new and positive behavior with the reward. This will furthermore reinforce this good behavior. However, make sure not to reward good behavior with the bead behavior. For example, don’t reward yourself for exercising with junk food. To successfully avoid this trap, make a list of positive rewards beforehand. On the other hand, start celebrating small wins and victories. Maybe you are not ready to run a marathon yet, but if running a mile is easier than it was the previous week, you deserve to celebrate!

  1. Preparing for slip-ups

Breaking a habit is always the most challenging, especially if it is something that gives you joy and excitement. So when you are on this journey, make sure to remember that it is very easy to slip into old patterns. This happens particularly in the early stage when the new behavior patterns are not solidified yet. Change is very hard because the old behaviors also took a while before transforming into new habits. So try to mentally prepare yourself for slip-ups because they are normal. This will help you to refrain from feeling discouraged and guilty once it happens. Do either a quick breathing exercise when you slip up or jot down three triggering points or how you are feeling about it. This will make the slip-up a lot easier to handle. What’s important is that you need to be honest with yourself, so make sure you know what caused this setback. Instead, consider changing your approach which might help to stay on track.

  1. Changing environment

Your surroundings sometimes have the biggest impact on how you behave. One such example is, suppose you are trying to break off the habit of ordering too much takeout. Maybe this is happening because by the time you reach your kitchen hungry, you are watching the to-go menus hanging on the bridge and this is triggering your habit of ordering takeout. You can try to change this habit by replacing the menus with printouts of easy recipes that take less time to make and you know you love. If you think you are spending too much time on social media scrolling away, you can leave a journal or a storybook on the coffee table that will encourage you to pick them up instead of your phone. You can also make a habit of spending 10-15 minutes cleaning and tidying up your house to avoid cluttering the space.

At the same time, keep in mind that the people you keep in your company in your environment can very well trigger your bad habits. Consider taking a break from those acquaintances who contribute to triggers or do not support you on your journey of breaking a bad habit.

It is a common myth that people can change or make a habit in just 21 days, but when you are trying to break a bad one, make sure to give yourself some time.

Edith Slocum

I am Edith Slocum and I have over 16 years experience in the financial services industry giving me a vast understanding of how news affects the financial markets. I am an active day trader spending the majority of my time analyzing earnings reports and watching commodities and derivatives. I have a Masters Degree in Economics from Westminster University with previous roles counting Investment Banking. <strong>Address:</strong> 4510 Sigley Road, Salina, KS 67401, USA <strong>Phone:</strong> (+1) 785-534-9610 <strong>Email:</strong> [email protected]

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