If you want to know how to break bad habits, we’ve got 9 tips and strategies to help!
We all have unique habits we’ve formed over the course of our lives, and not all of them are bad. Some habits are good for us, and we perform many of them without even thinking about them. Brushing our teeth, taking a shower, eating fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, and showing up on time for work are all examples of good habits we program ourselves to do automatically over time.
Other habits, like stress eating, excessive drinking, smoking, watching Netflix until the wee hours of the morning, pressing the snooze button on our alarm clocks, and staying in toxic relationships don’t serve us in the same way. Bad habits like these often develop due to boredom, stress, and/or environmental triggers. The challenge with these types of habits is that they activate the reward centers of our brains, prompting the release of dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure and reward and motivates us to repeat these behaviors over and over again. This explains why we continue to engage in specific behaviors, even when we know they aren’t serving us.
How Long Does it Take to Break Bad Habits?
It was once believed that it took 21 days to break a habit, but studies have since shown this isn’t necessarily the case. A 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that it takes anywhere from 18-254 days to break a habit, suggesting that many different variables play a role in determining how quickly someone can break a bad habit. The length of time a person has engaged in a bad habit, his or her motivation, and the successful implementation of replacement habits all contribute to one’s ability to make lasting change.
If you want to know how to break bad habits sooner than later, keep reading for our best tips and tricks!
How to Break Bad Habits Once and For All
1. Know Your Why
If you’re trying to figure out how to break a bad habit, you need to know WHY you are trying to change. Taking the time to really define the purpose behind the changes you are trying to make helps give you clarity, allowing you to set meaningful goals and crush them like a boss. When you have a clearly defined sense of purpose, it boosts your self-confidence and empowers you to take on change, no matter how hard it may seem. When you’re focused on something of great importance to you, your commitment to your goals becomes unwavering. Knowing your why adds depth and dimension to your life, allowing you to feel more fulfilled and handle setbacks and adversity in a healthier way.
2. Focus On One Habit at a Time
When we commit to making positive changes in our lives, it can be extremely tempting to try and tackle multiple goals all at once. We create these grand expectations of ourselves, and while we should be commended for our commitment and motivation, research suggests that focusing on changing ONE habit at a time leads to more successful, lasting change.
This may seem disappointing to those seeking to transform their lives for the better, but if you pick the most important goal on your list and go all in, you will likely see positive changes in other areas of your life. For example, you may decide that the first habit you want to tackle is cutting sugar out of your diet. As you work on this goal, you will inadvertently start craving healthier foods, you’ll have more energy, and you’ll likely lose weight.
3. Set Short Term Goals
When it comes to figuring out how to break bad habits, setting small, achievable targets that can be tracked and measured over time is a great way to stay motivated. This can be particularly helpful when trying to break a big habit, and it’s a great strategy for those who tend to feel discouraged and overwhelmed in the face of larger, more complex goals.
4. Identify & Remove Triggers
If you want to know how to break bad habits, identifying the things that cause you to engage in unhealthy behaviours is extremely important. In order to fully assess which things trigger your bad habits, I suggest tracking your behavior over the course of several days to a week. Write down the things that happen before and after you engage in the habit you are trying to change, and the thoughts and feelings you experience. Once you know the triggers behind your bad habits, you can put plans in place to remove temptation, and strategize ways to cope when avoidance isn’t possible.
5. Find Habit Replacers
One of the reasons it’s so hard to break bad habits is that they ultimately serve some sort of purpose in your life, even if they are detrimental to your overall health and well-being. For example, overeating, smoking, and excessive drinking are all bad for you, but they may have a positive impact on your ability to deal with stress and anxiety. Before you can successfully remove these habits from your life, you need to find a healthy alternative that serves a similar purpose. In this case, meditation, exercise, or journaling can help relieve stress and anxiety without the negative consequences binge-eating, smoking, and alcohol.
6. Track Your Progress
Another great tip for those who want to know how to break bad habits is to record your progress over time. This is a great way to keep you accountable to your goals, and also allows you to identify anything that may help or hinder your progress over time. There are lots of great habit tracking apps you can download to your phone, but if you prefer to work off of paper, I highly recommend the Clear Habit Journal.
7. Have a Plan
When you’re trying to break bad habits, it’s really important to take the time to identify obstacles that might set you back along the way. Stress, sickness, social events, travel, and unsupportive family and friends are all examples of things that can derail your progress, but if you take the time to plan ahead and put together a plan of action, you’ll be better equipped to deal with these challenges head-on.
8. Seek Support From Others
While some people are intrinsically motivated, others really struggle to stay on track with their goals without some sort of external motivation. If this sounds like you, consider asking for help from others. Whether it’s hiring a personal trainer or workout buddy, seeking the help of a nutritionist, joining a support group, or committing to individual therapy, seeking outside support can make all the difference in keeping you accountable and helping you stay focused and committed when you feel like giving up.
9. Remember: Progress NOT Perfection
My last tip for those who are trying to figure out how to break bad habits is to aim for progress over perfection. While there’s nothing wrong with striving for greatness in your life, perfectionists have a habit of setting unrealistic expectations for themselves, which can be extremely detrimental to their goals. The slightest blip in progress can send them spiralling, resulting in a whole host of other challenges, including depression, anxiety disorders, and low self-esteem. Recognize that progress isn’t linear. You will have setbacks along the way, but instead of getting discouraged and giving up, use them as opportunity to start again.
If you want to know how to break bad habits, I hope you found these tips helpful! Remember to focus on one habit at a time, find replacement habits, remove triggers, track your progress, and focus on progress over perfection!