5 Easy Ways To Actually Break Bad Habits

August 26, 2016

Tired of biting your fingernails too often? Do your friends avoid talking to you because you swear like a sailor? Have a drinking problem?

It can often feel impossible to kick a bad habit. No matter how much you want to stop compulsively making sarcastic comments or cracking your knuckles, it feels like something in your brain just doesn’t let you.

Fortunately, there are many ways to not only get rid of bad habits but also replace them with good habits.

5 Easy Ways To Actually Break Bad Habits

1. Find the Trigger

It was Socrates who famously coined the phrase, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” You might find that some self-evaluation can take you a long way toward developing better habits.

Remember that a habit is defined as a usual way of behaving—something a person does often in a regular and repeated way. In other words, habits are behaviors that become second nature.

These behaviors can be triggered by any number of things—a location, a time of day, and even other people. And all of these triggers are innocent in nature, but they could be working against you.

Whatever your habit is, it’s triggered by something. Examine your daily routine to find out when you’re most likely to bite your nails, where you’re most likely to procrastinate or what kind of day you’ve had, or who you’re around when you find yourself drinking too much.

Then take necessary steps to get yourself out of those situations before the routine behavior kicks in because a bad habit can quickly turn into a bad addiction.

2. Set Actionable Goals

Speaking of necessary steps, it’s important to remember to establish realistic expectations. Saying to yourself, “I’m going to quit smoking by the end of this month” isn’t going to get you anywhere by itself.

This goal is not only unrealistic; it’s intangible. How are you going to stop yourself from buying cigarettes? What will happen if a friend pressures you to smoke?

Instead of trying to achieve one massive goal, break it down into smaller milestones. Make your goals SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Doing so will help you focus your efforts and provide reasonable expectations for yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.

3. Write Everything Down

5 Easy Ways To Turn Bad Habits Into Good Ones

This is just a good habit to have in general, but it is especially helpful in kicking bad habits. Taking the time to write down your experiences and goals has been proven to lead to thinking big and staying committed to your objectives.

This practice allows you to keep detailed notes about your daily routine, which can help you identify triggers for bad habits as well as brainstorm new habits to replace the bad ones with. Don’t forget to write down your specific goals and the days on which you achieve each of them!

The motivation, clarity, and introspection that writing provides will take you a long way on your journey to better habits and a better lifestyle.

4. Lean on an Accountability Partner

Life isn’t a journey that’s meant to be traveled alone. Most bad habits persist simply because you try to tackle them all on your own.

Losing weight is much easier when you have a friend to cook healthy meals and workout with you. Human beings are social creatures, and often the greatest motivation to do anything is the people involved.

Studies have shown that peer pressure and personal comparison are very powerful in influencing decision-making, especially where daily routines are concerned. In short, it is very beneficial to surround yourself with people who are similar to you and who will encourage you to develop better habits.

5. Reward Yourself

This is basic operant conditioning—behavior can be modified through reward and punishment. For example, go a whole day without swearing and get a dollar from a friend—make sure your accountability partner is rich.

Positive behavior can be reinforced through rewards. Therefore, it is imperative to give yourself some kind of incentive for the hard work. Otherwise, you’ll very quickly question whether or not any of it is worth the effort.

Make sure the reward is something tangible as well. No one ever decides to go to the gym one afternoon because they can imagine a six-pack they might have a couple of years down the road.

People usually strain hardest for what’s right in front of them.

What are your tips for changing your habits? 

Also by Cori: 5 Evening Rituals for Optimal Rest

Related: 9 Healthy Workplace Habits to Start Now

10 Ways to Build Good Habits

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Photo: Kathryn McMahon via UnsplashKaboompics

Cori Keating is a health and wellness writer and blogger. When she isn’t writing for her blog, Why So Well, she enjoys hiking, biking, and running.


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