How To Break a Bad Habit: 7 Tips for Success
We all have our own unique set of habits that we do on a daily basis. Not all habits that we have are going to be bad ones. Many people seek out ways to form healthy habits to help them feel motivated and productive.
For instance, some people have a habit of making their bed as soon as they wake up, which others might envy! Like good habits, bad habits can form as well, sometimes quicker than having a good habit stick.
We all have them; it’s just a matter of how badly they affect our wellness and the consequences. Breaking a bad habit takes willpower and determination, especially because bad habits often make us feel good in some capacity.
If your bad habit is creating problems with your mental or physical health, taking a toll on your social relationships, or causing you financial stress, you might be better off breaking it sooner.
Keep reading to learn a few tips to help you break your bad habits!
How Do Bad Habits Form?
Bad habits don’t just happen overnight. It usually takes someone several times to display a bad habit before it becomes a part of their routine.
When it comes to how a bad habit forms, three main theories might explain it: reminder, routine, and reward.
Reminder: This is best described as a trigger. You may hear or smell something or get a certain feeling that points you toward your bad habit. Even something seemingly harmless, like drinking a cup of coffee, could remind someone to go outside and smoke a cigarette.
Routine: When you do something over and over, it begins to become part of your routine. Every time you go for a cup of coffee, it is a part of your routine to have a cigarette with it. You can’t have coffee without a cigarette.
Reward: Most bad habits do relieve a person of anxiety or stress, regardless of the long- or short-term consequences. If you are making a habit because it brings you joy or comfort, this bad habit now seems like a reward to your brain.
Why Do Bad Habits Form?
The majority of bad habits form as a result of stress and boredom. People will seek ways to relieve themself of stress or bad feelings, which is when habit-forming bad behavior starts.
Bad habits like scrolling on your social media feed for hours are likely a response to boredom, biting your nails is likely a response to stress, and before you know it, smoking cigarettes is a response to both!
Anyone can form an unhealthy habit, but it takes the realization that the consequences are catching up to you for someone to be serious about making behavioral changes. It’s not easy to quit habitual behaviors that have become a part of your life, so it takes time and commitment to learning bad habits.
Unlearning Bad Habits: How Do You Do It?
There are many tips out there that could be useful to your process of unlearning unwanted habits, implementing new behaviors, and promoting a healthy lifestyle. Not everything will work for you, but it’s about trying different methods to find what does.
If you’re serious about breaking your bad habits, be prepared for setbacks, feelings of heightened anxiety, and lots of determination. The result will be worth it!
1. Identify Your Triggers
Before you can even start unlearning your bad habits, you need to figure out your triggers. What causes you to partake in your bad habit?
If you’re a smoker, consider when you feel the urge to smoke and consider what in your environment sets off this feeling. Is it the time of day? Is it something you ate? Did something stressful happen? Did you have to talk with a certain person at your job?
These questions can be used for any bad habit, including biting your nails, picking at your face, or staying up too late into the night. Ask yourself why you feel compelled to practice your bad habit. Being mindful of why you’re participating in these habits is the first step toward breaking them.
2. Figure Out Why You Want To Change
If you’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the impact of your bad habits, it might be because you want to change them. This period might include reflection on why you partake in this bad habit as you are doing it.
Thinking about why your habit is bad for you in the first place and considering what consequences you might face down the line can help motivate you to change your habits.
Whether it's procrastination, overspending, unhealthy eating habits, or negative self-talk, habit change comes easier when you know there are benefits to changing your behavior. Coming up with a list of mental and physical health benefits you might experience from quitting your bad habit will give you insight into what your future could hold.
On the flip side, coming up with a list of all the negative consequences surrounding your habit can offer you a side-by-side comparison, prompting change.
3. Choose Substitutes for Your Bad Habit
Quitting cold turkey for any bad habit is difficult. Instead of avoiding the response that is the bad habit, try substituting the bad behavior for something else.
If you are someone who bites their nails when they’re anxious, consider getting a fidget toy that you can hold in your hand and use when you get the urge to bite them. Instead of grabbing a cigarette when you are feeling stressed out, chew on a piece of gum.
Replacing the bad habit with a new one can help you build more positive responses into your routine. Especially because many bad habits form due to stress, finding healthier habits to replace your bad habits can still help you alleviate your stress in a safer way.
4. Find a Habit-Breaking Buddy
When you are trying to break a bad habit, you can begin to feel alone and isolated. Some people in your life might not fully understand how a bad habit could be anything more than something you do from time to time. You need people who understand the difficulty of breaking a bad habit in your life to encourage you.
Find someone looking to break a bad habit of their own and enlist them as a habit-breaking buddy. Work together to hit your goals and hold each other accountable. When working with someone else, you can go to them to talk about your struggles. This makes breaking your bad habit easier, as you won’t feel so alone.
5. Prepare for Mistakes
Breaking bad habits won’t happen overnight. Most people will find that it’s harder than they thought, making the process feel neverending. You’re going to slip up from time to time, especially in the beginning, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Remind yourself why you are making this change and what benefits will come to you.
Have a plan in place for when you make a mistake. Have someone to talk to when you think you might cave and practice your bad habit again. Have a certain food you can snack on to get your mind off things, or take yourself outside for a nice walk to clear your head.
Don’t let yourself get too discouraged by a mistake that you made; let it encourage you to do better.
6. Practice Self-Care
Breaking a bad habit is a form of self-care, but be sure to always be kind to yourself. Drink plenty of water daily, set a schedule to help fill it up, see friends and family, treat yourself to a nice dinner, and don’t feel bad about buying something for yourself as you continue to hit milestones.
You should be celebrating yourself every day, especially if you’re striving to break your bad habit. Once you get into a rhythm of taking care of and being kind to yourself, it becomes easier to beat your bad habits.
Self-care can help implement good habits that you can do rather than bad ones into your daily life. Make self-care a part of your routine, which will become ingrained into your daily life.
7. Find a Community for Support
Undergoing the task of breaking a bad habit by yourself is not easy. Yes, you can have a buddy for accountability, but sometimes being among several people struggling with their bad habits can boost confidence. With Sober Sidekick, you can access an online community of people looking to better their life.
Though sobriety is the app's goal, many people are trying to create better habits for themselves through the app. When you download it on the iPhone or Android, you can begin chatting and supporting other individuals with similar struggles.
You have access to addiction specialists, 24/7 AA meetings, and resources that are aimed at helping you become the version of yourself you wish for. Get started today with unlimited access to help at the tip of your fingers. And get started making those bad habits into old habits.
Breaking ‘bad Habits’: A Dynamical Perspective On Habit Formation And Change | Research Gate
The Enactive Approach to Habits: New Concepts for the Cognitive Science of Bad Habits and Addiction | Frontiers in Psychology
Eaten Up By Boredom: Consuming Food To Escape Awareness Of The Bored Self | NCBI