How to Stop Bad Habits – 6 Effective Steps to Break Any Bad Habit
Habits are our brain’s powerful way of increasing its efficiency. Turning daily actions and behaviors into habits frees up our brainpower for more important challenges. They are our autopilot system to manage life easier.
Even bad habits often benefit our well-being. The short-term effect is a better mood and reduced stress. But they often have a negative long-term impact on our health and life.
But why is it so hard to stop something, that we know is bad for us?
The answer is dopamine. All bad habits provide some kind of good feeling or pleasure such as relieving stress when we are smoking or having a drink. This feeling prompts our brain to release dopamine. We are getting a reward (good feeling, less stress) for performing the bad habit (smoking). So whenever we are in a certain situation (feeling stressed) our brain creates the craving to perform this habit to get its reward.
It becomes a vicious cycle as our brain keeps us craving the things we’re trying to stop. This knowledge allows us to develop strategies to break and stop bad habits. This article will show you how it works in 5 easy to follow steps.
The Habit Loop (Infographic – Example)
How long does it take to break a bad habit?
The short answer: It depends.
The European Journal of Social Psychology published a study that states, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit. Breaking a bad habit is similar.
The study also concluded that, on average, it takes 66 days for a new (replacement) behavior to become automatic.
The question „How long does it take to break a habit“ contains so many variables that it’s impossible to establish a one-size-fits-all answer. For example, it certainly takes longer for a person to stop smoking if they did it over the last 20 years than for someone trying to break the bad habit of always forgetting to floss their teeth in the evening.
How to Stop Bad Habits – Step 1 – Becoming Aware of My Bad Habit And Its Consequences
Habits are a helpful tool to manage our daily life. They are often unconscious (95 %) and automatic behavior that allows us to live our life effectively.
Most habits are very helpful and positive, while others can also work against you. Even worse – there are a few “bad habits” that can harm your health and quality of life.
The short-term effects of bad habits are often positive (relieving stress), while the long-term effects are negative (affecting your health) if you’re thinking about smoking for example. These negative effects can be seen as side effects that accumulate and take over more and more.
If we experience these negative effects we come to the point to ask ourselves what’s going on here? We have to take a closer look at what originally triggered us to implement this habit and to find a way to replace it with a new and good habit that doesn’t have these negative side effects.
Here’s a List with Examples of Bad Habits:
- Drinking too much
- Wasting time online
- Eating Junk Food
- Being Disorganized
- Being unpunctual
- Consuming too much salt, sugar, caffeine, nicotine
- Following an irregular sleep schedule
- Failing to floss or brush one’s teeth regularly
- Nose picking
- Having workaholic tendencies
- Putting things off until the last minute
- Breaking promises
The first step to getting rid of a bad habit is becoming aware of the habit and its consequences
Eliminating bad habits is like setting a goal. You increase your chances to succeed if you have a specific outcome in mind. It’s also important that you are the one who wants to overcome this bad habit (intrinsic motivation).
Chances are high that you’ll fail if you’re just doing it because someone else said you should do so. Again your motivation should come from within and should not be driven by external factors.
You increase your chances of breaking bad habits if you’re concentrating on one habit at a time. Once you overcome it you can focus on the next one.
The exercise included in the “Build Good and Break Bad Habits Toolkit will help you identify the #1 bad habit you should start working on.
How to get rid of bad habits – Step 2 – Identifying My Habit Triggers – Gaining Back Control
Your bad habits are usually initiated by a trigger. To create lasting change and get rid of your bad habits you need to understand when and why these triggers appear.
They often seem to be external like a certain location or being surrounded by certain people, and most of the time it is a feeling or emotion you are craving for.
Try to become aware of the triggers of your bad habit. Find out which satisfaction you get from performing the habit. Once you are aware of the origin of the bad habit it becomes a lot easier to find a replacement that serves you better.
Tracking your triggers over some time will help you to become more aware of them and therefore is much more in control of your response to them. The exercise in this Toolkit will help you identify the triggers and become aware of the satisfaction you get from your bad habit.
Tip: Strong Resilience will help you to deal with setbacks and roadblocks. This article contains 13 tips and exercises that will help you build and train the resilience you’ll need.
How to break any bad habit – Step 3 – Find a Replacement Habit
All our habits serve us in some way. Especially, bad habits are often driven by the motivation to feel differently than you do at the moment. That means our habit is connected to a certain feeling we expect to get when performing this habit.
And that’s the reason why we are repeating them over and over again. When you light up a cigarette you want to relieve stress or the feeling of being part of a group of smokers.
Oftentimes we are not even aware of the feelings we are getting from this habit. A good example is people who are always late. On the surface, you might think they are just badly organized, but the real reason is they often enjoy being in the center of attention. Every other person has to wait until they finally show up. The entire behavior is often unconscious.
Try to come up with an alternative and better habit that satisfies your craving and provides you with the same feeling and reward as the bad one. The exercise included here will help you.
A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit – Step 4 – Make it Easy
Once you identified that bad habit and its triggers it’s time to work on some strategies that will help you to succeed and create lasting change. Our bad habits often build up over time and once they are formed it’s not easy to break them.
Every habit is initiated by a trigger. You crave a cigarette after seeing a colleague smoking or while feeling stressed at work. Simply resisting temptation is an ineffective strategy. It will work a few times, especially in the beginning when you’re still motivated, but in the long-term, it’s unlikely to work.
One of the best ways to break a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the trigger that causes it. Put your smartphone in another room if you’re constantly distracted and can’t get any work done. If you’re not getting enough sleep because you’re watching too much television – Remove it from your bedroom. If you smoke a cigarette whenever stress comes up – place them out of reach. Avoid the bar if that’s the place where you always drink too much.
The goal is to find ways to reduce exposure to things that trigger your bad habit. The exercise in the “Build Good and Break Bad Habits“ Toolkit will help you. You will also identify ways to make it unattractive and difficult to perform.
Get Rid of Bad Habits – Step 5 – Use a Habit Tracker
What gets measured gets done!
A habit tracker is the easiest way to measure whether you managed to stop or replace your bad habit or not. The most basic format of a habit tracker is a paper where you write down the habit you want to build (or break). Add 30 columns (for one month) and cross off each day you stick with your new habit (or managed not to perform your bad one).
You could also use software tools like CleverMemo to record your progress in a more detailed way. This allows you to track what’s working and what doesn’t and to adjust your plans.
A beautifully designed habit tracker in PDF form is included in the “Break Bad Habits and Build Good Ones Toolkit“.
How to Stop Bad Habits – Step 6 – Regular Progress Review – Goodbye Bad Habits
When you decide to break a bad habit and replace it with a better one you’re excited about your goal. You initially planned everything to make your new habits stick and that the former bad habit disappears.
Unfortunately eliminating or replacing habits is not a one-time set it and forget it task. You have to make it a habit itself to constantly review and reevaluate your plans and actions.
This constant review has several benefits:
- You know and see your progress (What gets measured gets done)
- You ensure you’re moving in the right direction
- You reengage with your goals (Do I still want this or do I have to make adjustments?)
- You constantly improve your strategy and action plan
- You stay motivated and keep your momentum
This Toolkit includes a review form you should fill out every two weeks. That’s enough time to evaluate your actions, progress, thoughts, and feelings about your status quo.
Wrap Up: How to Break Bad Habits in 6 Effective Steps
We hope these 5 steps will help you along the way to break your bad habits. Ensure you have a strong “Why“ (purpose or goal) to have the lasting motivation that is necessary to stop or replace your habit. This Toolkit will be an additional help on your way to success: