“Bad habits have a tendency to creep up quietly and linger far too long. But with patience and wisdom, you possess the power to defeat them for good.”
Forming a bad habit is easy, but breaking one is tricky. We all have unhealthy patterns that we want to change, whether it’s nail-biting, smoking, constant phone checking, or emotional eating. The good news is that you can overcome your bad habits with commitment and perseverance.
Here are the best strategies for doing so.
Before diving into how to defeat harmful habits, it’s essential to understand what causes them in the first place. Habits form via a three-step loop:
- The cue or trigger that initiates the behavior
- The routine, which is the habit itself
- The reward, which is the benefit you get from doing the routine
For example, your cue might be feeling stressed, the routine is stress eating junk food, and the reward is feeling comforted by the food. You need to identify and disrupt this habit loop to overcome a habit.
Reflect on what prompts you to engage in the bad habit and what you get out of it. Keep a journal to help uncover the emotional or environmental cues. Also, note how the practice makes you feel afterward. Understanding these two parts of the loop will help you find ways to disrupt the cycle.
Once you identify the cues and rewards for maintaining your habit, you can substitute in healthier routines. For example, if you snack when bored at home, walk around the block instead. Or, if you smoke when stressed, try deep breathing or listening to calming music.
Having alternatives at the ready makes it easier to avoid falling into the bad habit when the cue strikes. Over time, the new routine will create a different habit loop altogether.
- Match the reward – Choose a substitute that provides a similar benefit to the bad habit. If it relaxes you, do yoga. If it stimulates you, go for a jog.
- Make small changes – Wait to go from fast food to quinoa salads overnight. Substitute one unhealthy meal at a time.
- Have reminders available – Keep healthy snacks visible in the kitchen or have walking shoes ready by the door. Prompts can motivate you to choose a better routine.
You might only sometimes be able to avoid or substitute a cue. But you can modify situations to make cues less likely to trigger the bad habit.
For example, put your cigarettes in an inconvenient location, avoid the break room with the vending machine, or enable website blockers to curb mindless browsing. The more you can alter cues, the less power they’ll have over your routine.
Adding accountability is vital when trying to end a stubborn lousy habit. Commit to specific rewards if you refrain from the unhealthy pattern, like watching a movie after a week without takeout.
Also, deploy consequences if you engage in a bad habit, like paying $5 into a “no shopping” fund if you make an impulse purchase. Enlist friends and family to keep you motivated with encouragement or agreed-upon penalties.
Lastly, be patient with yourself and understand that falling back into old routines is normal. By documenting your development, you can assess what works and what doesn’t while also showing how far you’ve come. Celebrate modest victories, such as spending a few days without smoking.
With time and commitment, your brain will wire those healthier alternatives into habit loops that stick. Don’t become discouraged – overcoming bad habits requires diligence, self-compassion, and the belief that change is possible.
Breaking deeply ingrained habits is challenging but possible with concerted effort. By understanding your habit loop, substituting healthier alternatives, modifying cues, applying accountability, and tracking progress, you can disrupt cycles of unhealthy patterns.
Expect setbacks as part of the process, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Stay focused on the many benefits you’ll experience by overcoming bad habits. Committing to self-improvement, you can successfully replace worn-out routines with life-giving rituals.
FAQs: Overcoming Bad Habits
Other recommended strategies include:
- I am practicing mindfulness.
- I am getting accountability partners.
- They are removing triggers.
- You are learning your habit triggers.
- I am replacing one habit with another.
Start with small, sustainable changes.
Experts estimate it takes 66 days on average to break a habit, though that varies per person and by habit complexity. Stay calm if it takes longer. Persist with alternatives, and you will rewire habitual behaviors.
Old habits activate the reward-seeking part of the brain, making change hard. When you experience a cue, it feels satisfying at the moment to engage in the familiar routine, even if you’ll feel regret later. With time, new habits activate rewards instead.
Slip-ups are normal and don’t mean failure. Treat them as learning experiences. Reflect on what caused the setback and how to avoid it next time. Then get back on track with your new routine. Progress isn’t linear when forming good habits.
Make habits fun rather than a chore. Have an accountability partner. Join a group like CouchTo5K. Use apps to track progress. Set up reminders. Deploy rewards and consequences. And above all, focus on consistency rather than perfection. Tiny gains accumulate into results.