6 Tips to Change Bad Habits

We all have bad habits –– biting nails for nervousness, checking cell phones while driving, binge drinking at the party… Bad habits are difficult to break because they often become too ingrained for us to even notice we are doing them. Fortunately, habits are patterns of behaviour and the breaking of patterns is the key to changing the bad habits. Here are some tips to help you change your bad habits.

Identify the triggers

Anytime you perform a bad habit or feel tempted to do it, write down why you did it and how you felt when it happened. This can help you find triggers to your behavior and think about the habit consciously. Sometimes the triggers are emotional such as nail-biting driven by stress. Other times the triggers are more situational and environmental: you see a notification on your phone when you are driving, so you will check it. More often they are a combination of both –– the mix of anxiety and a quiet apartment leads to your smoking. Identifying all these triggers will help you find better substitutes for the bad habits.

Get rid of temptation

Avoid objects, places and people that make you want to perform your bad habits after you identified the triggers. Since habits are performed with barely any conscious thought, it is much easier to remove the stimulus than to stop the habits with pure force of concentration. For example, if you used to check any notification on your phone when driving, simply turn off the notification or put your phone on somewhere you cannot see it. If you are tempted to light a cigarette when you feel stressful, try not to buy cigarettes at all or at least do not place them anywhere around you.

Make habits less pleasant

In many cases, people developing bad habits is because they can get some benefits from the habits, either physically or emotionally. Making the habits less pleasant gives you the incentive to stop and prevents you from picking up the habits unconsciously. A classical example is a nail-biter that coats their nails in a nasty-tasting substance to prevent them from biting. For habits that are not easy to make unpleasant, you can set punishment for yourself. Doing 30 push-ups for checking your phone when driving can be a good instance.

Substitute a good or neutral habit

Often the best way to break a bad habit is to substitute with a good or neutral one. Pick up some more positive habits which give you the same or even more benefits than the bad ones do. For instance, if you like to smoke when you feel stressed or overwhelmed, try to do some exercise instead. In fact, many people find a daily exercise routine becomes similarly satisfying once they have turned it into a habit.

Get help

It is always easier to change a bad habit when there are other people to help and support you. You can call in the help of friends and family or go to a professional. For friends and family, these are the people you see regularly and people who love you and wish you the best. Ask them to help you enforce the changes you are about to make and call you out when you slip back into the old habit. If the habit is too difficult to change, you should consider seeking for professional help such as doctors, therapist, and support groups. Organizations and 12-step programs exist for almost all forms of addiction. A therapist or doctor should be able to recommend some of these to you, or recommend someone who can provide one-on-one counselling. These sources can offer you not only professional perspectives and support but also a sense of accountability.

Reward yourself

Changing a habit is definitely not easy. At some point you will reach a low-point where you feel frustrated and discouraged. This makes having a reward system for yourself extremely important. Rewarding yourself for meeting your goals can remind you that there will be a payoff and encourage you to carry on. A reward can be as simple as deliberately patting yourself on the shoulder for not smoking or cooking yourself a nice dinner for not nail-biting. Also, you can share your progress with people who are helping you. Having them happy for you will motivate you to work harder towards your goal. Changing bad habits is not easy but it is necessary and crucial for self-improvement.

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