We all have bad habits that we’d like to permanently break. Habits that prevent us from achieving our dreams or that have negative impacts on our wellbeing. However, breaking a bad habit can be daunting. In this post, I’ll go through a step-by-step process that will help you permanently break bad habits as smoothly as possible!
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“Good or bad, habits always deliver results”– Jack Canfield
Reaching for your phone as soon as you wake to check social media or your emails?
Binge-watching Netflix as soon as you get home from work?
Eating unhealthy snacks at all hours of the day?
These habits are time-consuming and can move you away from achieving your goals. They can have strong impacts on your life, wellbeing, and success so it’s only natural to want to break free of them.
But, breaking a bad habit can be difficult because they are usually deeply ingrained in our brains by repetition over a long period of time.
Before we dive into the steps to permanently break your bad habits, let’s first understand what a habit is and how it is formed.
What is a habit?
A habit is something we do without giving it conscious thought. It’s an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.
Some habits are positive and helpful, like turning off the lights when you leave a room or putting on your seat belt when you get into your car. Good habits give your brain a break from making tiny decisions all day long, thus creating more brainpower for more important things.
However, a habit becomes undesirable when it has a negative impact on your life. A bad habit is a patterned behavior regarded as detrimental to one’s physical or mental health, which is often linked to a lack of self-control.
How is a habit formed?
To break a bad habit, you must understand how habits are formed in the first place.
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that a habit is formed in a 3-step process he calls the habit loop:
- Cue: the trigger that activates the behavior. It can be an event or a feeling that tells your brain to take action
- Routine: the behavior or action you take following the cue
- Reward: the pleasure you feel after exhibiting the behavior
When your brain sees the trigger, it immediately craves the reward and therefore implements a behavior.
Let’s take, for example, the habit of looking at your phone as soon as you wake up:
- Cue: your phone is right by your bed so it’s the first thing you see when you open your eyes
- Routine: you reach for it and log on to Instagram
- Reward: a quick dopamine (the “feel-good” chemical in the brain) boost from seeing how many likes your last post received
Each time you repeat this loop, it becomes more ingrained in your brain until it eventually becomes automatic and therefore, a habit.
“Good habits are hard to develop but easy to live with; bad habits are easy to develop but hard to live with. The habits you have and the habits that have you will determine almost everything you achieve or fail to achieve”– Brian Tracy
You now know what a habit is and how it is formed. Let’s take a look at how you can permanently break them in these simple yet powerful steps:
5 steps to permanently break bad habits
1. Identify the bad habit to wish to break
What specific bad habit to you want to break? What does it look like? How is it negatively affecting your life? What do you want to replace this habit with? Be as detailed as possible, really dig in deep. Understanding exactly what habit and behavior you want to break is the first step.
2. Focus on your why
Why do you want to break this specific habit? Research shows that breaking a bad habit becomes easier when the change you want to make is valuable to you. Make a list of what you stand to gain by changing your behavior. What are you going to get out of it? Ask yourself “What’s in it for me?”.
3. Identify the triggers
Once you identified the habit you want to break, take a look at what triggers it. Is it something you see, something you feel? Does it happen at the same time of the day? Are you in a specific situation?
4. Remove the trigger
If possible, remove the trigger. Going back to my example of checking your phone when you wake-up, make sure your phone isn’t within your reach. Leave it in a different room. I know someone who went as far as leaving her phone in her car so that giving in to the temptation of looking at it was impossible before she had to go to work.
This might not always be possible, especially if the trigger is tied to something out of your control.
5. Replace the bad habit with a positive one
Trying to remove bad behavior completely is usually very difficult. You might have an easier time breaking the habit if you replace the behavior with something else.
Let’s say you want to stop eating cookies at 10 am while working at your desk. You can try to remove the cookies completely but I find that this creates frustration. All I can think of are those cookies and instead of eating them at 10 am, I eat them at 11 am… So, why not replace the cookies with a healthy alternative, like fruit or nuts? As you do this more often, a new behavior is created and then turned into a habit.
Is procrastination one of your bad habits? Then check out this post to learn how to stop procrastinating today!
Tips and tricks to permanently remove bad habits
When you first start out, you might be tempted to tackle multiple habits at once. But focusing on one bad habit to break is a better option. Tackling too many at once might make you feel overwhelmed and this will increase your chances of giving up.
So start small, pick one habit you’d like to break, and stick with it.
Be ready for slip-ups
Breaking your habits is no small feat, especially if you’ve been practicing them for a long time. If you slip up, don’t get discouraged. Take an honest look at why you slipped back into your old habit and learn from it. Analyze the situation and see how you can improve the situation.
Be patient and consistent
The key to breaking bad habits is to understand that it will take time and that you must be consistent. Be patient and stick with it for as long as it takes for you to be comfortable with your new habit. Remember, it took a while to form these habits and it will take a while for you to break them.
Know that you don’t have to do this alone. Having a support system is crucial when trying to break bad habits, especially deeply ingrained ones. Talk to your friends and family about what you’re trying to do. Being accountable to someone also increases the chances that you’ ll break that habit. When you feel discouraged, pick up your phone and talk to someone about it. There will be times when you just feel like giving up and this is normal.
Every once in a while, take a look back at the road you’ve traveled. Recognize the work and effort you’ve put in to get where you are and reward yourself. This will give a confidence boost and make it easier to keep moving forward.
The bottom line
Breaking bad habits is a long term game and it won’t happen overnight. However, you’ll soon realize that it wasn’t as hard as you initially thought and your new habits will feel just as natural as your old ones. And think of how satisfied you’ll feel when you break free of your bad habits!
Are you ready for the challenge? Let me know in the comments what habits you’d like to break!
Till next time!