How to Break Bad Habits

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How are those New Year’s resolutions looking? Many of us aim to get a fresh start in the new year, but too many people feel that if they fail to establish their new habits by the end of January, they may as well quit. Remember that any day is a good day to start making better choices! So, if you’ve been struggling with your resolutions, let February be your fresh start this year. Use the tips below to learn how to break bad habits.

How to Break Bad Habits

Figure Out Your Motivation

One of the biggest reasons that people fail to break bad habits is that they simply don’t have a solid intrinsic motivation to do so. So, take a moment and think about why it’s important that you break this bad habit. If you keep coming up with extrinsic motivations (your doctor told you to break the habit, your friend keeps nagging you about it, etc.), dig deeper inside yourself. Why do you want to break the habit? For example, maybe your motivation to shake up your sedentary lifestyle could be to have more energy or to enjoy more years with your family. These are stronger motivations than “to get my doctor off my back” because they reflect your personal desires.

De-Stress First

Too often, we develop bad habits due to stress. Our body is suffering and a bad habit (like smoking or eating sugar) can prompt the brain to release dopamine, a “feel-good” chemical. This is why it can feel so fantastic to eat a giant chocolate chip cookie or smoke a cigarette at the end of a long day. Our brains know that these bad habits provide instant relief, which makes them very tempting. So, if you want to alleviate your desire to engage in bad habits, try eliminating some of your stress first. How can you do this? Try getting more sleep, exercising regularly, meditating, dancing, listening to music you love, or taking warm baths.

Figure Out Your Triggers

What is prompting you to engage in this bad habit? Try to figure out if there are cues or triggers. For example, do you desperately crave a sugary treat when you walk through the bakery section of the grocery store? Do you stay up too late because you want to watch a certain TV show? When possible, eliminate these triggers to banish the bad habit. For example, you could bypass the bakery section or record that TV show to watch in the morning instead.

Create Incentives

Especially at the beginning, you may find it helpful to give yourself a reward when you refrain from your bad habit. However, make sure that you choose good-for-you incentives. For example, instead of rewarding yourself with cookies or a glass of wine, you could try putting a dollar in a jar to use on a special gift for yourself. Or if you stick to your habit for a certain period of time, you could book a manicure or a massage. However, even if you use an incentive, remember to focus on your intrinsic motivation for breaking the bad habit. If you’re only sticking to your goal because you want a manicure, you probably won’t maintain this lifestyle change in the long run.


Remember that learning how to break bad habits is sometimes only half the battle. You may also need to replace those ingrained routines with healthier habits. Good luck!

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