Building a new habit can transform your life. Unfortunately, when the new habit you start is a bad habit worth breaking, it’s better not to start it at all. However, we can’t go back in time to change the past. All we can do is take the right steps to make changes moving forward. So, before you beat yourself up with a negative inner critic, remember that that same brain is going to need to play a crucial role in these next steps. So, let’s walk through how to break a bad habit. We’ll share 10 ways so you can have some choice in breaking the habit in the way that works best for you. So, let’s dive in.
How to Break A Bad Habit in 10 Ways That Work For You
1. Determine the cause
Behind every bad habit is an emotional reason. For example, if you drink socially, the fear of speaking to someone you like or admire might be the cause. If you smoke cigarettes, peer pressure might’ve been what caused you to start in the first place. Alternatively, if you overeat due to trauma, working on the trauma will be key to stopping.
It’d be idealistic to say, okay you’re aware of the bad habit, so just stop. However, there’s a reason why you can’t. For example, the bad habit might be causing you to feel better, more confident, or might taste delicious, depending on what it is. So, when it comes to a replacement, it’s more about finding a replacement that not only fixes the emotional aspect but also replaces the benefit you get from the bad habit.
So, if you find you’re over-snacking because you want to be unattractive because of a traumatic experience, you might find a therapist who specializes in trauma while eating sugar-free snacks so you don’t become pre-diabetic. You might also buy smaller snack-size portions so you can still snack but on a smaller scale. A mindful eating meditation can also be helpful at helping you manage your bad habit of overeating. Nutrition tracking apps can also be useful for eating mindfully.
2. Replace it with a more positive habit
You can find a good habit to replace every bad habit. For example, instead of eating junk food, you can build a healthy exercise routine. But they don’t always need to be 1-1 for each other. You can break a bad habit by finding a better habit you enjoy.
For example, instead of smoking cigarettes, you can build a social activity like rock climbing, hiking, or dance classes. That way you still get to interact with other people without having to smoke. If there are aspects of your bad habit that you like, try to find an equivalent activity that matches that result without having to continue the bad habit.
The reason why exercise works so well is because it provides you with dopamine and endorphins, which make you feel good like many bad habits do too.
3. Work with a therapist
If you find a therapist who specializes in addiction or overcoming bad habits, you can get the support you need. You could even work with a counselor in your specific area. For example, if you’re struggling to overcome alcohol addiction, you can work with an addictions specialist. However, if you’re struggling with an eating disorder, working with a nutritionist while also doing some counseling can be helpful for you. There’s an expert for every type of bad habit you would want to break who will help you build new habits. Therapy treats the emotional aspect of the problem, so that you don’t relapse down the road.
You can also work with a therapist to learn multiple techniques to break a bad habit, so you can choose. Often, if we’re only given one choice for breaking a bad habit, it’s not a guarantee that we’ll follow through because that choice may not work for us. However, when you’re presented with multiple paths, you’re more likely to find something that works for you. Some people quit cold turkey while others try a tapering method. It all depends on what the bad habit is and how severely addicted you are to it. Plus, when you tangle in the emotional elements of the bad habit, things become a bit more complicated.
4. Minimize your triggers
It’s quite hard to break a bad habit if you don’t know what your triggers are. However, most of the time, we know what they are. Someone might say something hurtful, and we drink to numb the pain. A sexual assault may make someone overeat as they attempt to become more unattractive to people to prevent another assault from happening. We might experience work stress, which causes us to chain smoke cigarettes after a particularly tough talk with the boss.
You might not be able to eliminate all your triggers, because sometimes people provoke you unintentionally and unknowingly. However, learning how to manage triggers is helpful. Working with a therapist, you can discuss how to live while having triggers. In areas within your control, you might change your environment, romantic partner, or cut off a specific thing in your life.
5. Reduce your stress
It’s impossible to break a bad habit when we’re feeling overwhelmed. After all, most bad habits are in place to numb tough situations. We have these bad habits because in tough situations, they make us feel better. But you can’t hang onto them because they’re bad for you. So, instead of trying to eliminate the bad habit without a plan, consider finding ways to reduce your stress.
If work is stressing you out, you might choose to find a new job so you can have a fresh start. Once you get the new job, you can choose kindness in all interactions, so you emit a more positive energy to prevent a downward spiral. In cases, where you can’t cut people out of your life because they’re family, neighbors, or in your world, focus on changing yourself. When you choose to respond to someone’s provocation differently, they have no choice but to change their behavior around you. Consider doing acts of kindness or good deeds for difficult people. Tell them what you appreciate about them. This is proven to help smooth out tension. Don’t battle ego with ego, you’ll never win. Battle ego with appreciation and kindness and it’ll die down.
6. Quit cold turkey
There are two key methods for breaking a bad habit: quitting cold turkey or tapering off. Ultimately, one will work better for you. When people quit cold turkey, it’s usually because they’ve reached a breaking point. In fact, most people quit cold turkey before anyone even realizes that they’re struggling with a bad habit in the first place.
Having some sort of sweeping declaration, such as giving up the bad habit in order to (fill in the blank) is usually helpful. The day before going skydiving I was scared I was going to die, so the day before I decided to give up alcohol for a year if I survived. For me, doing this was a bit bs because dying skydiving was kind of the mask I told people, the reality is a deep-seated trauma was causing the alcohol addiction to grow. However, doing this worked. Fun fact: if you set a deadline, such as one year for giving up a bad habit, you really won’t crave it at all after that period ends.
7. Make a pact with yourself
Similar to sweeping declarations, pacts with the universe are also helpful in breaking a bad habit. It’s almost like an ultimatum we make with ourselves. Whether you make a pact with yourself, a higher power, or the universe doesn’t matter, pick what motivates you best.
When making a pact with yourself, think about a timeline for when you want to do this. For example, if you find yourself getting involved in too much drama because of your habit of gossiping, you might choose to do a good deed every day to counter that. However, how long will you stick to doing a good deed a day? Having a timeline, such as “for the rest of my life” or “for a year” is crucial.
Depending on how disruptive your bad habit is and how good the replacement of your bad habit is, you might choose to extend it to your whole life. Only do this for one or two things at most. It can be overwhelming to overcommit to too many habit changes. Keep it simple. However, a pact with yourself or the universe, unbeknownst to anyone usually leads to a pretty strong commitment level.
8. Create a new goal
Sometimes, breaking a bad habit is as simple as creating new goals for yourself. For example, if you set a goal to save $10,000 by the end of the year, your bad habit of spending your money frivolously gets pushed aside.
Having a goal that not only motivates you but is also personal to you is what will make the difference. You can create goals that help lead you to the 2.0 version of yourself. You might divide them into different categories, such as health, finances, relationships, bucket list, career, mental health and wellness, community, and so on. Choose to set goals in areas you’re genuinely interested in seeing personal growth in.
Set deadlines or time lines for accomplishing the goals. And be sure to put the goals down in writing. Place the goals somewhere you can see regularly so you keep them top of mind. You can even create a bullet list for every goal for milestones to achieve and celebrate along the way to keep you motivated and moving forward in a positive direction.
9. Change your environment
If you’ve tried multiple times to break a bad habit but are unable to make a serious change, it may be time to change your environment. Toxic environments can have a negative effect on our wellbeing and mental health. Eliminating the toxic people, places, and thoughts from our lives will help you break a bad habit.
If your family causes emotional pain, then moving out or getting a divorce may be what helps you heal. In the event that a certain friend group encourages your bad vices, then finding a new friend group can improve your life. If most of your problems start out as thoughts, then taking drastic action to change your thoughts will matter. For example, doing acts of kindness can help you look at yourself differently after doing it for a few months to prevent self-loathing.
10. Partner with a friend
To break a bad habit or to start a good one, you might want to partner with a friend for accountability. For example, if you’re looking to boost your fitness routine, a friend could come to the gym with you regularly to keep you motivated. If you want to stop fighting with your partner or spouse, working together to communicate well and help each other around the house can help make the transition smoother. Those of you with the bad habit of not studying or practicing a specific skill, could pair up with a tutor, mentor, or friend to practice the skill alongside them. Bad habits like overreacting to difficult situations could be remedied by partnering with a therapist, counselor, or mental health specialist to work through your emotions.
Breaking a bad habit will require you to make some serious changes in your life. What got you hooked onto this bad habit will need to be dealt with to allow you to make progress. Dealing with tremendous amounts of stress without any moral support won’t allow you to emotionally break free from the bad habits you have. So finding some emotional support will play a critical role in your recovery. You can quit cold turkey or wean off the bad habit slowly, whatever works best for you. Changing your environment, finding a friend who will help you form a new good habit, and working with a therapist can all be beneficial to the next chapter so you can finally master how to break a bad habit.