We all have that thing. You know, your go to when you’re down. That thing that makes you feel good.
Especially, when you’re stressed… BUT you kind of have a love-hate relationship because you know it’s not healthy for you… and yet, you just can’t help yourself.
You know what I’m talking about – it’s that bad habit you’ve been meaning to quit for a while but just haven’t gotten around to yet.
At some point in life, we all develop a bad habit. Some are worse than others and we all judge our own bad habits at different levels.
Regardless, we all deal with them and we all (or at least most of us) wish that we didn’t have to.
Unfortunately, being able to break your bad habits can be hard to do. Obviously, that’s why it’s called a “habit”.
There is absolutely no shame in admitting to this and if you’ve landed here then it’s probably safe to assume that you are ready to break your bad habits for good.
Why Habits Happen
Before we get into the real fun stuff, I wanted to talk about why bad habits form, to begin with.
Understanding the root cause of a habit is one of the bigger factors in being able to quit or change it.
Reason #1 – Bad Habits Are Reaction to Stress
Take a second to think about this. How many of the negative habits that you have are a reaction to the stress or pressure you feel every day?
As a society we find it normal to stress eat, stress nap, stress smoke, stress drink, stress shop, stress yell, stress binge Netflix, stress procrastinate… The list is endless and I think I’ve made my point.
Stress is a huge factor in our daily lives now and it’s causing us to react in unproductive and unhealthy manners to cope with it.
The bad habits we create are our coping mechanisms to the stresses we have cultivated in our lives.
I say cultivated because so many of the stresses we have are self-inflicted thanks to our societal pressure to “have it all”.
When I started to focus on simplifying my life to improve the quality of my life, I found that many of these stresses fell away and my need for the coping mechanisms with them.
Reason #2 – We Function on Autopilot
We all function on autopilot to some varying degree or another. In fact, we need the autopilot to survive. If we attempted to take in every single element going on around us, we would overload.
Most of our day runs on autopilot. On a routine. The breathing, the thinking, the getting dressed, the eating, and the driving are just a few of the things that come automatically to us.
You don’t usually do these things with a grand gesture of intention. Maybe on occasion, but not on a minute to minute basis.
This is actually where we get the term “intentional living”. It’s the opposite of autopilot and refers to picking a few things to do with more awareness and intention.
This is why habits, especially bad ones, are so hard to stop. They are part of your routine. You have trained yourself to do them on autopilot and turning the autopilot off, takes intentional force.
You have to force yourself to do something entirely different and that’s that part that feels difficult. As if it’s extra work and now you’re just adding more stress to your life. So you give in and roll on autopilot again instead.
You tell yourself “tomorrow,” even though you know it won’t happen then either.
So how do you quit or change your habits you don’t want anymore?
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How to Break Your Bad Habits for Good
1) Identify the habit you want to break
This is a pretty simple one. Chances are, you had a specific habit in mind when you first landed on this page.
However, if you have more several you want to break, my advice is to just start with one at a time.
I always suggest starting with the one that will have the biggest impact on your life. If you need help figuring out what your levels of priority are, you can grab the “where to start” printable download from the free resource library.
2) Know Your Why
Let’s be honest, you’re going to need more of a reason than “this is a bad habit I should quit” to keep you going. You need a real reason as to why this is important to you.
What will your life look like in the future if you stop or change this bad habit? Who are you doing it for?
What are the consequences if you don’t stop? Can you live with that?
Sometimes answering the hard questions really help us focus on the right thing versus focusing on the problem.
You can grab the “Know Your Why” free printable in the free resource library.
3) Identify the Trigger
What is a trigger? Essentially, it’s a cue that causes you to subconsciously do something.
They are associations. Such as sitting down to relax for a moment as soon as you get home from work and your thing is grabbing your drink of choice and turning on Netflix.
Now you find that every time you need to relax for a moment’s break, you turn on Netflix… and grab something to drink. Or you grab that drink and the next thing you know you’re watching Netflix.
Those things feel like they go together for you and it’s weird to do one without the other.
Now, this is a simple example, yours might be much different.
Maybe you find yourself on Facebook every time you log onto your computer and one day you mean to get on to pay a bill but five minutes later are wondering how you ended up surfing your feed instead.
So what is your bad habit, and what is it that triggers you to do it?
Obviously, the next step is to remove the trigger.
Feels easier said than done, right?
It doesn’t have to be overcomplicated though.
Let’s use the Facebook example. For me, if I want to break the habit of always going to Facebook, then I can use a website blocker.
These websites are awesome in that you can tell them certain times when you want a certain website to be blocked.
Similarly, if you wanted to cut back on your drink of choice, you could remove the trigger by not buying any or keeping them in a different location that you don’t subconsciously visit on a regular basis.
4) Replace the Bad Habit with Better One
Swap out your bad habit with a reasonable substitute.
If you’re feeling like completely removing or stopping that habit is going to be too difficult, consider replacing the habit with a different healthier one.
Sometimes we have a bit of a guilty pleasure that we don’t want to give up entirely but that we know we need to quit.
One great option for this is swapping a relatively good (or better) habit out with your bad habit.
You may not exactly break your bad habits, but you will curb it a little with this method.
So let’s say you’re used to eating a bowl of ice cream before bed every night. Instead of cutting it out completely, swap it out for a healthier frozen yogurt or homemade sugar-free sorbet option.
After a while, you can again swap it out for an even healthier option like plain yogurt and fruit.
It’s not about focusing on what you can’t have, it’s about focusing on what you can.
5) Demotivate Yourself
Another thing that can help you break your bad habits is to demotivate your desire to do them.
Create a negative emotional association with the bad habit.
These tend to be things we already know but try to ignore.
Ask yourself if it’s really worth it. Is it worth your time, your energy, your effort? Or is there something else that will make you much happier and make your life a lot better that you could be doing instead?
For instance, you know that drinking soda every day isn’t healthy for you but it’s kind of whatever.
Consider though, what that kind of influence is actually doing to your child.
Countless studies have shown that high levels of sugar intake make “everyday cognitive tasks like learning and memory formations become much more difficult.” (Source)
Which means allowing your child to drink so much soda ultimately means you’re personally hindering their learning and their memory.
Besides that, we know that soda increases the chances of heart attack, asthma, and tooth decay just to name a few. (Source)
Are those really health issues you want to help influence your child to increase in their lives? Is drinking several sodas a day really worth that?
Okay, super strong words. I know, and I’m not at all attacking you or your parenting skills. Each to their own is my thing.
My point was just to show you how strong negative emotional associations can help to demotivate you from your bad habits.
There are so many examples of how this works. I simply chose soda because I quit sugar a few years ago after drinking several cokes’s a day so this is one that would work to demotivate me.
6) Make the Habit More Difficult
You can also demotivate yourself by making the habit difficult to accomplish.
Do you have a bad habit of sleeping in? Take several alarm clocks and place them all over the room.
At first, you may be frustrated, but in the 30-45 seconds, it’ll take to shut them all of, you’ll be up and out of bed.
Or let’s say you want to break your bad habit of falling asleep with the tv on. The best way to make the habit harder is to remove TVs from your bedroom.
7) Consider Barriers
Next, consider your barriers. The things that hinder you or make your goal very difficult to achieve.
These are the things that give you the “I’ll start tomorrow” excuses.
Only you know what your barriers are and only you know what you can do to overcome them. A great way to do this to write your barriers out and the solution to each.
If you need help, grab the “Maintain Motivation” worksheet from the resource library.
8) Focus on the Outcome
We talked a little bit earlier about knowing your why and what your future will look like.
You won’t always feel like following through with this, which is why mapping these things out is so important.
It’s part of maintaining your motivation to accomplish your goal of quitting or changing your bad habits.
A super helpful thing in keeping up your motivation is keeping your eye on the prize so to speak.
Create a vision board in relation to your desired outcome and put it up in a place that you so often so you stay reminded of the good you’re going after.
9) Give Yourself Grace
I talk about this a lot. You’ve got to give yourself a little grace.
Everyone messes up at some point. Part of what causes people to give up is the feeling that because they messed up a little, that they totally screwed everything up so “what’s the use?”
But when you give yourself a little grace, you realize tomorrow is a new day and you can just start again.
Now, obviously it is possible to get a little extreme with this. At some point you have to JUST DO IT.
You can’t put it off forever. Not if you really want that thing.
10) Get Support
Personal Opinion: We weren’t meant to do life alone.
Find an accountability partner, tell a trusted mentor, or post about it on social media (if it’s appropriate).
You’ll find how supportive and encouraging people are of you when you are actively striving to make improvements in life.
11) Don’t Rush It
Something that has always stopped me from working towards something is the feeling that it has to be all or none.
If I can’t start from the beginning totally ready to be all in then what’s the point? – has been my attitude in the past.
What I’ve come to learn though is that everything takes time anyways. I get more done now just making little changes everyday than I ever did trying to do it all at once.
Even if you change just 1% each day, you will soon have a 100% difference.
12) Reward Yourself
Celebrate your accomplishments. Small and big.
Did you go a whole week without eating candy? Reward yourself with the cute mug you saw at Target or a movie night in.
Sometimes it’s the little things that keep us going.
Finally feeling ready to kick your bad habits to the curb? Check out these extra resources to help you out!
Kwik Brain Podcast
Jim Kwik, a brain performance expert, goes more in-depth about each of these points in his podcast episode #17: How to Break Bad Habits That Hold You Back.
Power of Habit
Additionally, if you’re hoping for some mega power to help you break your bad habits, we highly recommend reading “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.
In this book, Duhigg explores studies and human behavior to suggest and explain how everything we do is centered and driven by our daily habits.
We believe that if you understand the reason that habits are so powerful, that it will enable you to break your bad habits and form amazing and life-changing new ones!
Are there any habits you have broken by following these tips or other methods you have learned to break your bad habits? I want to hear about them in the comments below!