A Guide for Breaking Bad Habits


Photo by: David Kiger

Changing bad habits to good habits can be easy with determination.

Whether we admit it or not, we all have fallen into bad habits from time to time. From overeating to nail biting to binge watching television shows, these habits are present in our everyday lives. Many people resolve to change their ways, but without truly understanding how these habits work, kicking them can be close to impossible.

One must understand that habits are embedded in our minds. They happen in a cycle, consisting of a trigger, a routine, and a reward. For example, if the habit is overeating, a trigger may be stress, which cues the routine of eating. The reward can then be feeling temporarily better due to the release of the chemical dopamine in the brain. If this cycle is repeated over and over, it becomes embedded in the brain, causing it to become a regular occurrence, even repeated subconsciously in some cases. Charles Duhigg describes this habit loop in his book, the Power of Habit. By understanding how the brain works, setting clear goals, and using determination, people can change habits.

1. Recognize the habit and set a goal.

Half of the battle is acknowledging that the habit exists and that it needs to be fixed. Be realistic when setting a goal and realize that changing a lifestyle takes time. 

2. Identify the triggers.

Triggers cause the habit loop to start, meaning that changing one’s habit requires resolving the problems associated with the trigger. Common triggers include stress and boredom. Knowing what triggers the habit is the first step in understanding how to fix it.

3. Replace the routine for the same outcome.

If the goal is to quit watching watching too many television shows, the trigger may be boredom, which causes the habit of excessive watching. Those wishing to redirect the habit should conquer the boredom by doing something more beneficial, such as spending time with friends or exercising.  In the end, revising the routine will result in the same reward and a new, more positive, habit. 

4. Consciously repeat until it becomes second nature.

Depending on the complexity of the habit, turning a routine into a life style can take weeks or even months before it becomes habit in everyday life. 

5. Spend time with others who have similar goals and values

Most people are easily influenced by other people. Spending time with friends who share the same goals makes changing a habit easier. Surrounding oneself with the people who will encourage the new, positive goal, will help resist the temptation to repeat negative behaviors.

Stay aware of the habits performed throughout the day and recognize the negative ones. By setting the goals and staying focused, positive habits will replace the bad habits that once prevented success.