How To Break a Bad Habit Permanently: Strategies & Steps
Bad habits can influence your career and relationships every single day. Such habits are often formed from repeatedly not thinking through one’s actions.
Sometimes, peer pressure can also encourage individuals to partake in activities that are detrimental to their daily lives. Routine behaviors have been known to be particularly difficult to break and overcome.
We get easily adapted into a schedule and challenging these activities can be a serious mental and physical challenge.
However, the benefits of overcoming bad habits are well worth the initial struggle. You can live a higher quality of life, lengthen your life, improve your relationships, or get ahead in your career.
In this article, we will discuss how you can overcome detrimental habits and the benefits of doing so.
How to Stop a Bad Habit Permanently – Explained in 7 Steps
Stopping bad habits is a key step toward permanently overcoming your bad habits and boosting your odds of relationship and career success. While everyone has their own approach to stopping bad habits, there are outlines you can use for information and inspiration.
Usually, the steps you should take include:
Step 1: Identify the Triggers
Before first overcoming your triggers, you must first identify them. For instance, if your problem lies with consistently drinking, find why you are doing so. Is it your environment (being in a bar, having drinks in your fridge) or other’s behavior (peer pressure from other drinkers).
Social anxiety can also play a role in triggers and making impaired decisions. Identifying these triggers can prevent you from letting autopilot control you and it encourages you to take action.
Step 2: Deal with the Triggers
The breaking of patterns is the key to overcoming habits. This is why action against your triggers is just as important as identifying them. Take proactive actions against your triggers and remove yourself from stressful situations, as well as distance yourself from stressors. Try reading an exciting book, trying to relax, taking deep breaths, and so on.
Step 3. Develop a Substitute Plan
Simply getting over a bad habit is not enough to make this change sustainable. Instead, you should replace these bad habits with positive habits. Using the drinking example from earlier, you should actively create a backup plan by having your friends drive you home.
Alternatively, if binge eating junk food is your vice, you can replace the unhealthy foods with healthier options that still taste delicious. Ensure you have a plan to avoid the trigger before you are confronted with it.
Step 4. Identify and Change the Larger Pattern
Habits often exist in a larger context. In fact, many of your bad habits could be intertwined. This is usually because certain emotions trigger a series of events, instead of just one. For instance, a breakup causes negative emotions to overpower individuals.
This triggers some people to binge eat, adopt a negative lifestyle, stop partaking in activities they usually enjoy, and not stay active. Understanding how all these behaviors are interrelated can help you get rid of multiple bad habits at once.
Step 5. Use Prompts
Prompts are reminders that help you continuously avoid unwanted behavior and replace it with positive, conscious behavior. This is essentially a positive trigger that motivates you to make the decisions that best align with your goals and values.
For instance, try putting running shoes near your bed to remind you to exercise. Or, put a reminder on your phone to check in with your stress levels daily. If your stress levels are high, take some deep breaths, meditate, or relax in other ways.
Step 6: Get a Support System
Support can come from anyone you trust and feel comfortable speaking to. This includes a counselor, psychologist, therapist, friend, or family member. Also, take advantage of hotlines if your urges become especially strong. There are support networks online for overcoming many negative behaviors, such as binging, drinking, self-harm, and so on.
Sometimes, the best help comes from a medical professional. Certainly, consider seeking professional help if your urges seem uncontrolled or they are harming your quality of life.
Step 7: Support Yourself and Invest in Rewards
Most people become discouraged at some point when they are trying to break unwanted behavior. Many lose focus on their goals and begin to question whether changing habitual behavior is truly worth the time and effort. Realize that these are normal feelings.
However, there are benefits to rewarding yourself for positive habits. It will make the behavior easier to remember in long term and it could help your overcome discouraging thoughts. Remember the goals you have for yourself and the benefits of developing a positive core habit list so you can stay motivated.
What are Bad Habits?
Bad habits are any habit (consistent behavior) that hinders your quality of life or ability to succeed. They can negatively impact your career, health, relationships, or any other aspect of your life.
Sometimes, bad habits can be difficult to define. Some may consider certain habits to be hinder some while others find them to be beneficial. Ultimately, this depends on your own outlook and goals.
Any habit that interferes with these goals or goes against your values can also be viewed as a negative habit.
List with 15 Examples of Bad Habits
- Stress eating, comfort eating, or binge eating.
- Nail biting.
- Smoking or drinking (in excess).
- Being lazy, physically inactive, or watching too much television.
- Being late.
- Leaving decisions to the last minute.
- Using slang in formal settings.
- Staying in unhealthy relationships.
- Dwelling on the negative.
- Staying up too late.
- Failing to go to the dentist for regular cleanings or going to the doctor for annual physicals.
- Getting distracted from your tasks.
- Not using good hygiene, such as not brushing your hair, not taking showers, not brushing your teeth, and so on.
- Promising things that you cannot deliver.
- Engaging in negative self-talk.
Why is Important to Break Bad Habits and Change Behaviors
Stoping negative behaviors, especially habits, has numerous benefits. It will have a positive impact on your everyday life, career, relationships, and mental health.
It may also benefit you physically or lengthen your life span, depending on the habit you are addressing.
7 Benefits of Changing Your Behaviors
- You reduce the risk of mental health conditions (depression, anxiety, and even dementia)
- Improved memory and better brain health
- Longer lifespan and higher quality of life
- Increased ability to think clearly and critically
- Boost in resilience and perseverance
- Discovering your hidden passions (especially some which you may have repressed)
- Have the opportunity to replace bad behavior with new beneficial ones
How to Stop a Physical Habit
The first step toward breaking a physical habit is to understand the habit and its negative impact on your life. At times, physical habits have some some underlying emotional motives behind them.
For instance, people may drink because they want to numb their emotional distress. Nail biting or similar habits may simply be impulses, though.
It is important to address the root cause of the problem. Start by making the behavior conscious.
Then, put the habit into writing. Write down the thoughts you have and emotions you feel when you partake in the negative habit.
This will give you a clear understanding behind why this habit may be soothing or appealing to you. Then write down the cons of the action so you can understand how damaging it is.
After that, find a more positive replacement for the behavior that still gives you the emotional or physical euphoria the less than ideal habit gave you.
Substitute binge eating to eating healthier foods that still taste good. Or, instead of drinking, try going out with friends and playing a sport.
How To Prevent Bad Habits and Create a Good Habit
First, you must clearly define the habit you wish to replace. Outline why you believe it is detrimental and the benefits of replacing it with a better habit.
This outline can also be useful when you are losing motivation. Then, create a plan.
Choose a habit that can still fulfill your emotional desires while also being beneficial to you (aligning with your values and making success more achievable).
Cut out triggers for your current poor choices. Instead, surround yourself with people and things that encourage you to make better choices.
For example, if you wish to avoid binge eating, stop buying high calorie food and instead load up your fridge with low calorie options. If the urge to binge comes, you will not have any foos to enable the bad habit.
Try to visualize yourself implementing the new good habit, even before you start doing so. Create a plan about how you can start using the new habit in place of the old one.
If you slip up, do not beat yourself up. If you get off track, remind yourself of the benefits that come with the good habit. Use the as motivation to keep on track.
Top 5 Books on How To Stop Bad Habits
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
One of the most popular books on this topic, Pulitzer Prize Charles Duhigg creates a compelling and detailed novel about the emotional fulfillment associated with habits.
He details that 40% of your decisions are not just decisions. Rather, they are habits. Duhigg proposes that the best way to overcome bad habits is to replace them with beneficial habits.
Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney
Many individuals wrongly believe that they innately lack willpower. However, this is simply untrue.
Understanding the basics of willpower will help you find ways to align your actions with your goals and values.
In fact, simply looking in the mirror when doing something detrimental makes you less likely to perform the act.
This book helps you realize the psychological reasoning behind our actions.
The Craving Mind by Judson Brewer
Brewer’s book focuses on the inner workings of the mind and how the neuroscience relates to habits.
It is a great resource for understanding just why you crave something, and one of Brewer’s key recommendations involves mediation.
To combat your impulsive behavior, Dr. Brewer recommends you practice mindfulness and she uses the latest neuroscientific data to back up this recommendation.
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter
A shocking 46% of individuals state that they would rather suffer from a broken bone than a broken phone, and 70% of emails are checked in the first 6 seconds of reviving them.
These statistics reveal the immense addiction today’s population has to technology. However, professor Adam Alter has a plan to combat this addiction.
This book reveals ways to take back control over your devices and gives you tips on living a healthy digital life.
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
Nir Eyal, a world renowned educator on consumer psychology at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, discusses the methods many technology companies use to keep us hooked.
It can help you address the emotions behind your technology addiction and bad technology behaviors. Once you understand what keeps you addictive, you can overcome it.
Bad Habits Vs. Good Habits – Main Differences
In general, good habits align with your goals and values and are actions you wish to repeat.
On the other hand, bad habits go against your values, hinder your ability to reach your goals, and are actions you wish to avoid doing.
You should continue doing the beneficial habits, but bad habits should be reevaluated and rep,aced with better habits.
Habits can be unconscious. You may automatically reach for a cigarette or immediately exercise, simply because it is routine.
However, bad habits are often associated with negative emotions. They are sometimes used as coping mechanisms.
On the other hand, good habits are usually conscious. Even if they are unconscious, they are almost always associated with positive feelings thoughts.
These positive habits are likely to contribute to your success, while negative habits hinder your ability to succeed and decrease your quality of life.
How to Break Bad Habits in a Relationship?
Breaking habits is especially difficult when a partner is involved. However, this does not have to be the case. Ensure that you do not let your prior toxic relationships impact your current relationship.
If you are currently in a toxic relationship, consider seeking counseling or speaking to the individual honestly about your feelings and thoughts before any bad habit is formed.
Then, imagine your future. Do you want to continue doing the bad habit for the rest of your life? Consider why you wish to get over it.
Then, find an alternative behavior to replace the detrimental habit with. The new habit should still give you comfort.
These new positive habits can include seeking support from friends, exercising, mediating, journaling, perform tasks you enjoy, taking with your partner openly, or taking care of yourself.
Remember, self care is not selfish. It is a way to keep you positive and healthy, which benefits your partner as well.
How to Break Bad Habits as a Student?
Addressing bad behaviors is difficult, but it can be especially difficult to students without support. As a student, take some time to list all of your worst habits.
Some of these habits can be cramming the night before, pulling all nighters, ordering takeout for every meal, and so on.
The best way to overcome these behaviors and others is to understand their impact on your success.
Realize that none of these habits will help you in the long run. In fact, they will likely negatively impact your mental health and grades.
Now, try to replace those habits with more beneficial ones. Instead of pulling all nighters and cramming, try to plan in advance and study early on.
Budget and plan before you feel hungry so you do not turn to takeout. Create a daily schedule the night before so you can get enough sleep daily.
The uniting factor in all these examples is planning in advance. Many bad habits are formed as a result of repeated impulse decisions. Planning can help you make smarter choices and build better habits.
If you make a bad choice, remember one decision does not make a habit and so not stress over this. As long as you are generally planning and making mostly good choices, you will overcome your bad habits and build better habits.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bad Habits
What is the easiest way to break a bad habit?
The easiest way to overcome a detrimental habit is by replacing it with a positive habit. The new habit should still provide you with some emotional fulfillment that the prior habit enabled you to have.
However, before you start planning out the new habit, specify the habit you wish to break and the reasons you find it to be detrimental to you.
This will serve as an additional written way to motivate you to continue making the right choice.
Every time you perform the new good habit, provide yourself a reward. If you give into the detrimental habit, provide some form of punishment.
How long does it take to break a bad habit?
The time it takes to break a habit depends heavily on the individual, the emotions associated with the habit, and the habit itself. Some say it takes 21 days, but this is an arbitrary number.
A more accurate estimate (based on data) is that it can take anywhere between 18 to 254 days to break a habit, although an additional 5% of individuals may do it in a longer period of time.
Is overthinking a bad habit?
Negative habits are any repeated behaviors that do not align with your values, hinder your ability to reach your goals, or negatively impact you in any other way. If overthinking fits this description for you, it can be considered a bad habit.
This is true for most individuals, as overthinking commonly leads stress, burnout, and lower levels of confidence.
However, if you see benefits of overthinking, such as it helping you analyze your prior decisions or helping you weigh options, it may not be a detrimental habit.
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