How to Form Good Habits and Break Bad Ones

Habits drive everything we do in our daily routines, and they can either help or hinder our productivity. Many of us wonder how exactly we should go about breaking our bad habits and transforming them into ones that are more beneficial. It’s easy enough to say you want to change your habits, but actually doing so is very challenging. In this article, we’ll give you expert tips to help you break your least favorite habits and build new ones that will help you be more productive.

Breaking bad habits

It’s so difficult to break habits that have been ingrained for a long time, and the longer you’ve had a habit, the harder it will be to get rid of. When deciding to break a habit, you’re going to need a strategy in place that will keep you on track. Here are some of the best ways to break a bad habit.

Observe what circumstances lead to the bad habit in the first place

You probably don’t engage in your bad habits at random - they probably go hand in hand with certain feelings or situations that pop up in your life. When deciding to break your bad habit, think about why you do it in the first place. Maybe you eat fast food when you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, or you bite your nails when you are focusing on a book or a movie. If you know the sorts of situations that are going to trigger your bad habits, it will be easier to be aware of them and make changes accordingly. That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to avoid these situations, but just be aware that you are going to need to use some extra willpower when they happen. You can also look for alternative ways to cope with these feelings or situations, which we will address later when discussing how to build good habits.

Give yourself consequences for your actions

If you give yourself an easy incentive not to do something, it will be much easier to quit. An easy way to do this is with money - you can put five dollars (or any predetermined amount) in a jar every time you engage in your bad habit. Then once you’ve gone a certain period of time without engaging in the habit, you can get your money back, reinforcing your good behavior patterns. This is just one way to check yourself every time you engage in your bad habit - you can give yourself whatever consequences you think will work for you. It may be helpful to enlist your friends and family to keep you on track as well. You can have them check up on you periodically to make sure you’re sticking with this plan. Having outside accountability is another motivating factor, because many of us care more about living up to others’ expectations than living up to our own.

Start slow and work your way up

If you’ve had a bad habit for a long time, it’s going to be very difficult to quit cold turkey - so don’t expect yourself to. Instead, start by making slow changes and work your way up to quitting completely. This is particularly important for behaviors that could be considered addictive, like smoking and drinking. For smoking, you could start by cutting back on the number of cigarettes you smoke each day. Once you’ve cut back by a reasonable amount, you can switch to nicotine patches or gum. Over time, you can wean yourself off of these aids. When you do make progress, be sure to acknowledge it and celebrate it, because these positive reinforcements will feel great and make you more motivated to keep working harder.

Give yourself a reminder

With so many distractions in our lives, sometimes you’re going to need a little extra reminder to make sure you don’t fall back into your bad habits. Giving yourself little reminders can help you stay on track. For example, if you’re trying to cut back on drinking, set an alarm on your phone at night to remind you to hold off on that glass of wine. If you forget to take off your makeup at night, put a sticky note on your mirror to remind you to wash your face. Even just wearing a brightly colored rubber band around your wrist can help you remember your habits, because every time you look at it, you will associate it with the habit you are trying to break.

Change up your environment

If you find yourself wanting to engage in your bad habits, take a minute to switch up your surroundings. For example, if you’re feeling tempted to eat a donut at work, head outside and walk around the block on your lunch break instead. This will brighten your mood and get you away from anything that might be triggering you. Even just moving to a different part of the house when you are craving your bad habits can help you shake up your mood and keep your willpower strong. If just moving around doesn’t help, try reaching out to a friend or family member as a distraction. Having some moral support can work wonders when you are feeling low.

Think about the future

When you’re hankering to indulge in a bad habit, you’re probably thinking about how good it would feel in the short term, not how it would affect your life in the long-term. When you’re trying to break a bad habit, think about the benefits you will get in the long run from making that change. For example, quitting smoking will help you live a longer, healthier life, and your friends and family will probably appreciate it as well.

Don’t beat yourself up

It’s totally normal to experience some highs and lows over the course of trying to break a bad habit. If you have a relapse, getting down on yourself about it isn’t going to be helpful. Instead, remind yourself why you want to quit the habit, tell yourself you won’t let it happen again, and then do something healthy to make yourself feel better, like exercising, engaging in a hobby, or talking to a friend. Keeping your mindset positive is very crucial to your overall success.

Building good habits

Sometimes building good habits can actually be harder than breaking bad ones. You’ll need a very concrete plan and lots of support to make your new habits a reality. Here are some of the most effective strategies for building good new habits.

Be specific about what you want

In order to actually be successful with your new good habits, you are going to need to be specific about the behavior patterns you want to build. If you just say you want to ‘eat healthier’, it’s going to be difficult to make any changes that stick. Instead, be more definitive. Maybe you want to cut out sugar, maybe you want to eat more fruits and vegetables, or maybe you want to start cooking your own healthy meals. If you can quantify what you want from your habits, this is going to be even more helpful. Decide exactly how many sugary items you want to limit yourself to each week, or set a goal of cooking a certain number of meals per week at home. When you’re just starting to build a new habit, having these deliberate parameters can make a huge difference.

Make it easy for yourself

You’re not going to want to build a new habit if doing so is inconvenient. Think about it and determine what’s currently holding you back from your new habit. For example, maybe you want to work out more often, but you don’t have a gym nearby. Instead of trekking to a gym that’s far away, look for exercises you can do without one, like running outside or following a workout video in your living room. If you’re feeling particularly dedicated, you could even invest in a workout machine for your home. There are even smaller day-to-day things you can do to make your new habit easier - for example, you can set out your workout outfit the night before and  plan your work schedule so that you have some free time in the morning to exercise.

You should also make sure you put your good habits into your schedule. It sounds obvious, but if you don’t make time to do the things that are important to you, they aren’t going to happen. Whether you use a digital calendar or a physical one, make sure you mark down time to get things done. When you plan ahead of time to get something done, the idea of actually doing it doesn’t feel so overwhelming.

Replace one of your bad habits with a good one

If you have a bad habit you want to eliminate and a good one you want to start, why not kill two birds with one stone by substituting the good for the bad. For example, you might want to drink more water and cut back on drinking alcohol. Every time you feel the urge to reach for a beer, get yourself a glass of water instead. This will train your brain to rely on your new good habit instead of your old bad one.

Find a support partner

Building a new habit is so much easier when you don’t have to do it on your own. Ask around to see if any of your friends or family members want to build the same habit that you do, and do it together. This way, when one of you is feeling a bit lazy, you will have the encouragement you need to keep going. When you have social support, things that used to feel difficult won’t feel so hard anymore.

Track your habits

When you start building a new habit, keep track of every day that you’re successful with it. There are a few ways you could do this - there are many different apps that are designed for habit tracking, or you can mark it down on a physical calendar. When you see your successes represented visually, you won’t want to break your streak, so you will be more motivated to keep up your good habits every day.

Reward yourself for doing good

When you’ve made it to a significant milestone with your new good habit, be sure to reward yourself. Acknowledging the progress you’ve made is very important, and rewarding yourself every so often can be a great way to keep moving forward. Just make sure that you don’t reward yourself too often, or you won’t be as motivated to make progress. In fact, as your habit becomes ingrained, your rewards should be less frequent, because you want the habit to be second nature. You should also make sure that your reward doesn’t inhibit your progress with your new habit. For example, you shouldn’t reward sticking to a diet with binge eating fast food.

Don’t be afraid to look for guidance

Whether you’re trying to break a bad habit or implement a new one, there’s a lot to be gained from seeking help. A life coach can help you get things on track, and if you’re struggling emotionally with these changes, a therapist can also be a great resource. Even if you’ve never seen a professional like these before, they can provide you with the support you need to make major life changes. If you don’t have the time or money to see a professional, you may also want to consider looking for online resources. There are so many videos, podcasts, apps, and websites that offer self-help resources you can use to improve your life.

These are some of the most reliable strategies you can use to build new habits and break your bad ones. Remember that everyone struggles with bad habits at times, and if you feel like you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Trying to improve your life is very commendable, and it’s worth sticking with the goals you set so you can reap the rewards.