Everyone has one: a bad habit (or habits…) we wish we could break. Unfortunately, breaking a bad habit — as anyone who has ever bitten their nails, smoked, or mindlessly snacked in front of the TV knows — is not that simple. Breaking habits is hard, but with a little determination, it is achievable.
There is a reason habits are hard to break. The majority of our habits are good for us, allowing our brain to complete certain tasks on autopilot which frees space for decision making, creativity, and quick action. But the brain does not discriminate between good and bad habits; once something becomes a routine, whether it’s helpful or harmful, your brain will perform it automatically, which can make it hard to stop.
Step 1: Identify the habit
All habits serve a purpose. Brushing your teeth first thing in the morning prevents cavities, stopping at a red light prevents car accidents, and eating cupcakes when you’re feeling low can deliver comfort. To make positive improvements, start by identifying your problem habit and its underlying cause.
Step 2: Replace it
Once you’ve identified your habit and its trigger, find something positive to take its place. If you eat to wind down after a long day of work, replace food with a walk or yoga. If you bite your nails, try chewing gum. If you smoke to relieve stress, try meditation.
Step 3: Keep the commitment
Once you’ve decided to break your habit and replace it with something positive, write it down. Keeping a journal of your progress can hold you accountable while serving as a great progress marker. If you’re truly committed to making your new positive habits stick, complete your new habit daily for 30 days. The more consistent you are, the easier it will be to continue.
Step 4: Be prepared for hiccups
Through this process, it’s important to remember that habits are habits for a reason — they serve a purpose and our mind is trained to complete them with little to no effort. Be kind to yourself and be patient; all of your attempts to change habits will not be successful immediately. Expect bumps along the way but continue to push through. When in doubt, think positively. If you are at wit’s end and the only thought in your head is “I can’t do this…”, make it a positive. “I can’t do this, but it will get easier.”