In this article, we’ll discuss what bad habits are and how to break them.
A habit is any action we perform so often that it becomes almost an involuntary response. If this habit becomes undesirable, we may consider it to be a “bad habit”.
If you open the dictionary and look up bad habits, one of the definitions you’ll see is “a patterned behavior regarded as detrimental to one’s physical or mental health, which is often linked to a lack of self-control” (Segen’s Medical Dictionary, n.d.). Essentially, a bad habit is a recurring action you do that typically provides instant satisfaction but often leads to long-term problems.
Examples of Bad Habits
Not getting enough sleep
Too much screen time before bed
Negative Self Talk
How to Break Bad Habits
Now that we know what bad habits are and what causes them, how do we break them? Sure, people may tell you to just stop, but that’s easier said than done. Here are some steps that may help you break bad habits:
1. Identify the bad habit. You may desire to define the actual concrete behavior that you want to change. Sure, you know that smoking is bad for you but what are doable solutions? You may want to switch to nicotine patches or other alternatives to help, or perhaps you may want to stop taking as many smoke breaks at work.
2. Identify your triggers. You may want to consider why you find your bad habit so compelling. Why did you develop the habit in the first place, and what drives you to continue to go back to it?
3. Cut out as many triggers as you can. It may help you change your behavioral pattern by going for the triggers themselves. Triggers are the event that kicks off the automatic urge in your brain to complete the habit. This can be anything around us that our brain associates with a particular habit. These triggers, such as who you were with and what is around you, can have an invisible but impactful effect on your behavior. Tricks for avoiding them could range from working on deep breathing and meditation to deciding to get professional support.
4. Replace the bad habit. Now, research shows that simply stopping or ending a bad habit doesn’t work (van der Weiden et al., 2020). You developed the habit for a reason, and it fulfilled a need or provided relief. Instead, it may be more fruitful to substitute your bad habit with a good, or at least better, habit.
5. Find support. It may help to find people who are trying to break the same bad habit. Groups that meet to quit drinking, smoking, or other bad habits may provide emotional and moral support. This may help you stay accountable and provide someone to celebrate your victories with. Knowing that someone is expecting you to be better can be a powerful motivator as well.
6. Visualize success. Close your eyes and see yourself throwing away those cigarettes or junk food from the house. Visualize yourself waking up early or going for that after-work jog. Whatever your bad habit is, it can be motivational to visualize yourself crushing it and enjoying your success.
7. Be patient but persistent. Change takes time, and you may mess up from time to time. No one is perfect, but remember that consistency is the key to success. Over time, new brain connections can form, and new habits can be made. Don’t be so harsh on yourself for slip-ups, just take it one day at a time.
In terms of enacting life changes, everyone starts from somewhere. The first step is to identify the bad habit and accept that you are willing to change. Breaking bad habits takes time and effort, and as we discussed, it requires replacing them with better habits. You may not be successful all the time, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t making meaningful steps in the right direction. It is more important that you be persistent and kind to yourself on your journey.
bad habit. (n.d.) Segen's Medical Dictionary. (2011). Retrieved August 3 2022.
van der Weiden, A., Benjamins, J., Gillebaart, M., Ybema, J. F., & de Ridder, D. (2020). How to Form Good Habits? A Longitudinal Field Study on the Role of Self-Control in Habit Formation. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 560.