We all have bad habits that we wish we could break, whether it’s biting our nails, procrastinating, or overeating. But breaking these habits can be a challenge, especially if they’ve become deeply ingrained over time. Fortunately, there are proven strategies that can help you overcome your bad habits and create a healthier, happier life.
Just after Christmas 2022, I decided to stop eating chocolate. I’ve been eating chocolate every day for many, many years. I knew eating chocolate daily was not good for me, but it is a habit I struggled to stop. The effective strategies I share to break bad habits are the same strategies I used to stop eating chocolate.
1. Identify the bad habit you want to stop.
First, identify which bad habit you would like to stop. When it comes to breaking bad habits, it is best to focus on only one habit at a time. When you focus on too many, it can be overwhelming and the changes are harder to stay committed to.
“Good habits are hard to develop but easy to live with; bad habits are easy to develop but hard to live with. The habits you have and the habits that have you will determine almost everything you achieve or fail to achieve”.Brian Tracy
Many bad habits affect health mentally and or physically. You might get upset or feel guilty doing the action but struggle to stop. Bad habits become routine quickly whereas good habits take time to become automatic habits.
Some common bad habits include;
- Alcohol abuse.
- Nail biting.
- Lack of exercise.
- Insufficient sleep.
- Poor food choices.
- Too much screen time.
- Slouching when sitting at the table or your desk.
- Overspending or poor financial strategies.
- Speaking to yourself negatively.
- Poor time management.
- Being a people pleaser at the cost of own health and well-being.
2. Identify the root cause of the habit.
To effectively break a bad habit, it’s important to identify the root cause of the behaviour. Ask yourself;
Why do you engage in the habit and what triggers it?
Is it a coping mechanism for stress or anxiety?
Is it a result of boredom or lack of fulfilment in other areas of your life?
Once you understand the underlying cause, you can work on addressing it and finding healthier ways to cope with or fulfil those needs.
I identified multiple reasons why I ate chocolate daily. One of the reasons was the want to have something sweet after I had eaten. Maybe this is because as a child we often had desserts, though today I seldom eat desserts. A second reason was a craving when I had low energy and a third was the habit of mindfully nibbling at chocolate in the evenings while watching TV.
3. Cut out the trigger by changing your behaviour pattern.
If possible cut out the trigger. A simple solution to stop eating chocolate may be to not buy chocolate. If there is no chocolate in the house then you can’t eat it.
Our environments can help us with good and bad habits. To stop bad habits sometimes changes in the environment are needed.
To stop eating chocolate while watching TV, I changed where I sat to watch TV and recommenced a past time I used to enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles. I also stopped buying chocolate.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek”.President Barack Obama
4. Replace the bad habit.
I noted above that I ate chocolate when I had low energy or wanted a sugary snack after eating. I replaced the chocolate with eating dates. Dates are sweet and tasty.
In the book ‘Atomic Habits‘, author James Clear writes about the benefits of habits and that it is important to replace the bad habit with a similar benefit the bad habit provides. This does not mean replacing one bad habit with another bad habit, it means looking into why you have the habit.
An example provided in the book was that some people smoke to feel connected to others. Smokers often gather together and chat while smoking. The need here is, connection, the replacement habit would need to fill that need.
For myself eating chocolate for the sweet taste after my meal was replaced by eating a date. A healthy alternative that still satisfies my sweet tooth.
When stress is the trigger for me wanting to eat chocolate, I practice mindfulness activities like breathing.
5. Use visualization techniques.
Visualization techniques can be a powerful tool for breaking bad habits. Visualization involves imagining yourself successfully breaking the bad habit and experiencing the benefits of doing so. This can help you stay motivated and focused on your goal.
I used the power of visualisation for intent to stop eating chocolate long before I actually took the steps to stop eating chocolate. On my vision board, I had a picture of healthy eating and words to help me focus on healthy eating like; no sugar, good nutrition, and weight loss.
Take a few minutes each day to visualize your success in stopping the bad habit and achieving your goals, and watch as your mindset shifts towards success. Read how to create a vision board that helps you visualize your goals.
6. Break bad habits by creating a plan and setting achievable goals.
Breaking a bad habit requires a plan and achievable goals. Start by identifying the specific habit you want to break and why you want to break it. Then, set realistic goals for yourself. For example, if you want to stop smoking, you might set a goal to reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke each day until you can quit completely. Make sure your goals are SMART goals; they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. Write them down and track your progress.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit”.Aristotle
7. Surround yourself with supportive people.
Breaking a bad habit can be challenging, but having a support system can make all the difference. Surround yourself with people who will encourage and motivate you to stick to your goals. This could be friends, family members, or even a support group. Avoid spending time with people who engage in the same bad habit you are trying to break, as this can make it harder to resist temptation. Instead, seek out positive influences who will help you stay on track and hold you accountable. Remember, you don’t have to do it alone, do not be afraid to ask for help.
8. Celebrate successes.
Celebrate your successes along the way to stay motivated and committed to breaking your bad habit for good. One way to celebrate success is to track or count the days you do not do the bad habit. A simple habit tracker that tracks daily, weekly, monthly or yearly can help you see the progress you are making.
Just like the rewards you may have received as a child for good work at school or doing chores, rewards as an adult help us stay on track and motivate us to achieve and continue towards our personal goals. Plan rewards to help you succeed in stopping the bad habit. Have someone in your support system who helps you stay accountable to your goal.
“The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new”.Socrates
9. Plan for failure.
We are all human, we will fail at times. It is only natural to slip back into old patterns or be tempted occasionally or even have your environment unprepared for you to complete the good habit. When you get off track, don’t beat yourself up, prepare to continue where you left off. There are multiple reasons why you might fail to achieve a goal but if you have gone back to a bad habit, spend time refocusing. Focus on what has worked so far and continue to take action to break your bad habit.
Go back and celebrate the success you have had so far and continue going for your goals.
I certainly have had some chocolate this easter. Eating chocolate this Easter is something I planned for as I knew I would be tempted by chocolate. It’s Easter after all.
10. Use the power of positive self-talk
Speak to yourself positively as you break bad habits and form good habits. When we think, we often think negatively and judge ourselves. We may not be where we want to be today, but tomorrow is a different story. As you take action to achieve your goals by breaking bad habits use positive self-talk. Saying positive affirmations is a good technique to use to help you break bad habits and achieve your goals.
Affirmations are positive statements that you repeat to yourself to reinforce a desired behaviour or mindset. For example, if you’re trying to stop eating chocolate, you might repeat the affirmation, “I am in control of my health and choose to enjoy healthy snacks”.
Use the word ‘but’ to change negative talk to a positive statement.
It is not always easy to see yourself as the authentic you because past habits have become ingrained. You may see yourself differently from who you used to be due to the stressors and habits you have endured. Use positive statements to reinforce the change of habits. Use the word but to help connect where you are to where you are going.
I love chocolate but I prefer to be healthy.
I am overweight but by reducing my chocolate intake I am working towards my health goals.
“You leave old habits behind by starting out with the thought, ‘I release the need for this in my life’.”Wayne W. Dyer
Bad habits may be hard to break but when you focus on how to create positive habits triggers life changes are possible and you will be on the way to achieving your goals.