I’m sure most, if not all, of us, have tried breaking bad habits before. It could be something like biting your nails, snoozing your alarm, less checking of social media, overspending, etc.
How did that turn out for you? Since you’re here reading this post… I’m guessing not very well.
Bad habits don’t improve our lives, but instead are time-consuming, perhaps financially straining and can make us unproductive.
If you’ve tried breaking a habit, then you also know how hard it is to follow through and see changes.
But you’re in the right place to finally start tackling that bad habit.
We’ll start by looking at the science behind habits. That helps you to understand how to break and build habits.
And hey, I’m all about putting theory into action – grab the worksheet below so you can start breaking your bad habit(s) step by step.
How habits are formed
Behind almost any habit, there is a pretty simple formula that explains how a habit pattern works. According to research, a habit has three parts:
- The trigger or cue – the time, location, feeling or another stimulus that triggers your habit
- The routine – the habit itself, the action
- The reward – the benefit or satisfaction you get from this habit
A simple example could be:
- Trigger: your alarm goes off in the early morning
- Routine: you snooze the alarm
- Reward: you get to stay in your warm and cozy bed a few more minutes
Every time you repeat this pattern, it becomes more ingrained in your brain, and eventually, it will become a habit.
Why are bad habits formed so easily, but so hard to break?
Usually, it’s easy to form a bad habit because the reward is immediately satisfying. But it’s temporary. In the snoozing example above, it means that later you have to hurry to be ready on time. And no one enjoys hurrying.
The craving of the reward is also the reason why it’s so hard to break a bad habit.
But you can and are able to change your life by eliminating bad habits. Read on to learn the strategy to eliminate your bad habit once and for all.
Here are 5 tips on how to create habits. You won’t reach goals if you don’t have a system – habits are your system to achieve any goal.
Okay, but how to break your bad habit?
Know your why
As with every goal you set, the first step is knowing why you want to reach this goal. Along the way, you might lose your initial motivation and excitement, so you’ll need to remember yourself what the reason is behind wanting to break a bad habit.
Diagnose your habit
Following the 3-step habit formula above, you can diagnose your habit and analyze what your cue and reward are.
The next few times you fall into the habit:
- think of what the cue was that triggered it, and
- what the reward was afterward
Write these down, so after a couple of times, you will have some data to analyze and find out if there’s a pattern in your behavior.
Diagnosing your habit will make you more aware of your habit, so the habit will move from an automatic routine to a more conscious decision. Which means you can stop yourself before falling into the habit.
Set a start date
How many times have you told yourself to start something ‘soon’ or ‘later’ or ‘after X event’? And how many times did you then actually begin? Exactly.
Set a start date to make your mission real. You will be more likely to try and work on breaking your bad habit.
Eliminate the trigger
When you know what the cue is that triggers your habit, you’re one step closer to breaking your habit.
Because the trigger is what sets off your habit, the trick is to eliminate this trigger.
A new environment – for example, when you go on holiday – is ideal to start working on breaking your habit, because your usual triggers are not available. When you start eliminating the trigger in a new environment, it’s easier to continue when you go back home.
If you’re not going on a holiday anytime soon, that’s no problem (and no excuse!). You can still eliminate the trigger.
If for example, you always eat a cookie when you come home after work, while you are trying to eat healthier, don’t buy cookies anymore or put them in a less accessible place.
Play around with it and see what works best for you.
Work towards a positive goal
Most of the time when we want to break a bad habit, we formulate the goal in a negative way. Like, “I will stop eating junk food” or “I will quit biting my nails”.
Stopping and quitting are negative words. And our brains’ habit system doesn’t function well when working towards a negative goal.
Our brains learn better when they work towards a positive goal, such as “I will start eating healthy” or “I will let my nails grow”.
Reaching a desired outcome is easier for our brains to work towards than eliminating an undesired outcome. Read that twice, slowly.
Why? Pursuing negative goals is associated with feeling incompetent, less self-esteem, and less satisfaction with the progress.
But a positive goal makes you excited to reach the goal, increasing your chances of actually achieving it.
Want to become a morning person? Read the 9 tips to wake up easier and have a good morning.
Share your progress
Tell a partner or friend about your goal to break a bad habit. This will increase the chances of you achieving your goal.
Because when we make a public announcement to others, we feel more obligated to follow through with it.
Besides, sharing with a friend brings positive reinforcement. When you share that you didn’t snooze this morning and got out of bed immediately, your friend will respond with praise. This will further motivate you not to snooze the next morning either.
Ideally, you’re both working on breaking a bad habit, so you can share your ups and downs and support each other to reach your goal!
Let's get started breaking your bad habits
There you have it. You know what the science is behind habits and the strategy to break your bad habit.
It’s time to start working!
I have created a special worksheet for you to make it easier to put the strategy into action and work toward breaking a bad habit.
I’m sure that the worksheet will guide you successfully in your path to breaking a bad habit!
On a last note, I want you to know that it takes time to break a habit. Don’t give up too quickly if you’re not seeing results. You won’t change overnight, and some days will be harder than others.
Believe in yourself and commit! And you’re always welcome to share your progress, struggles, and victories with me! You can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment down below.