How to Break Bad Habits and Replace Them with Good Habits

Last Updated on January 22, 2023 by Milton Campbell

Do you have any bad habits? If your answer is no, you’re lying to yourself. We all have bad habits. Some are worse than others, but you can break yours. In this article, I will provide tips and tricks to break bad habits once and for all. 

The more bad habits we can eliminate from our lives, the better our life will be in the long run.

Common Bad Habits List

Below are some of the more common examples of bad habits:

  • Smoking
  • Eating Sugary Foods
  • Overeating
  • Procrastinating
  • Overspending
  • Skipping Breakfast
  • Negative Self-Talk
  • Spitting
  • Chewing With an Open Mouth
  • Complaining
  • Fiddling with Your Hair
  • Being a Know-it-All
  • Exaggerating
  • Fidgeting
  • Excessive Gambling
  • Grinding Your Teeth
  • Chewing a Pencil

Types of Bad Habits

Bad habits are synonymous with addictions. Some of these addictions are worse than others. Some cause possible illness or death. While others can cause discomfort or monetary losses.

All of these habits fall into two categories of addiction. The first is a chemical addiction. For example, smoking and eating sugary foods cause a chemical addiction in your body. Which makes you want more. 

The other type of habit is a behavioral addiction. This occurs when you have an uncontrollable habit of doing something like negative self-talk or spitting.

Bad habits are not all created equally, but we should do our best to strive to eliminate all the bad habits from our lives.

Who do Bad Habits Affect?

Silhouette of a family. A reason to break bad habits.

Bad habits always affect us in some way, but they often affect everyone around us too. When they get too out of hand, our loved ones are the ones that are affected the hardest. Sometimes they just cause irritation like being a know-it-all, or they could cause health problems to those around us like smoking. 

Why Is It So Hard to Break Bad Habits?

Neurons in your brain fire at the beginning of new behavior. They settle while the behavior is occurring. Once the behavior is done, neurons begin firing again. Patterns begin to form in the brain making it extremely difficult to break bad habits. 

The brain makes these actions almost automatic, to enable us to use our brains for other things. This is great for activities like walking or driving. But when it comes to something negative it can make it even more difficult to stop.

Pleasure-based habits are even harder to break. When you do an enjoyable activity, your body releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine makes you crave something when you are not doing it. 

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For these reasons, roughly 70% of smokers say they would like to quit, but they still smoke. The good news is that with all these things working against us in our brain, we are all still capable of change. We are not robots. Even if we have trained our brain to act in a certain way or crave a certain thing, we can rewire it. It’s never easy to break a bad habit, but it is worth it in the end.

How Long Does It Take to Break Bad Habits?

Image of a calendar for how long it takes to break bad habits.

There is no real set amount of time it takes a person to break a bad habit. It can be anywhere from days to years. Many factors go into how long it will take you to break a habit:

  • How long this habit has been a part of your life.
  • How integrated this action is in your life.
  • What social, physical, or emotional rewards come from this habit.
  • The support of people around you.
  • Your motivation for quitting or getting rid of the bad habit.

Although there is no set timeline, the British Journal of General Practice conducted a study. Their study suggests that 10 weeks is a realistic time frame for most people. By the 10-week time frame, a new habit should be almost automatic. 

What is the 21/90 rule?

There is a popular belief out there called the 21/90 rule. This rule states that “It takes 21 days to build a new habit and 90 days for it to become a lifestyle change.” This is great for starting out but can be a little deceiving. 

It may take more or less than 21 or 90 days to form new habits and lifestyle changes. Even after that time has passed, you have to keep committing. You can’t give up because you’ve made it to the specified number of days.

That being said, the 21/90 rule can be a great starting point. For instance, you may have a habit of throwing your dirty laundry on the floor. So you may say “for the next 21 days I will put my laundry in the basket.” After those 21 days it may or may not have become automatic, so you may have to reevaluate. 

What Are the Steps for Breaking Bad Habits?

Recognize Your Bad Habit

Of course, your first step to breaking bad habits is to recognize your bad habit. You can’t fix something until you acknowledge there is a problem. 

Think about all the negatives this habit causes and make a list. Instead of writing down the negatives though, I want you to write down the positives of not doing the habit. For example, if I’m quitting smoking my list might look like this:

  • Be healthier
  • Live longer
  • Smell better
  • Save money
  • Additional time

Think about how good your life is when you eliminate this bad habit from it. Picture yourself without this bad habit.

Set Your Goals

What are your goals to break bad habits? Use smart goals to set a sound goal for breaking your bad habit. Smart goals are a form of goal setting that clearly defines your goal. A clearly defined goal will give you a greater chance of success.

Identify Triggers

Image of a brain.

Triggers are things that make or remind you to do your bad habit. An easy trigger to recognize is seeing someone else doing the same bad habit but with most habits, there are more triggers than that. 

Making a list of your common triggers at this point is a good idea. We will use this list a little later. 

Some common triggers for bad habits are:

  • Boredom
  • Stress
  • Anger
  • Sadness

Replace the Bad Habit With a Good One

Now take the list of triggers and replace these triggers with good action. For instance, if you want to smoke when you get bored, try doing 5 push-ups instead. This is how you change bad habits into good ones.

Even if you can’t find something good to replace your bad habit with, replace it with something better. If the first thing you do when you get in your car is light up a cigarette, instead try chewing some gum. This is one of the more effective and sustainable ways to break bad habits.

What to Do When Setbacks Happen

Setbacks are not uncommon when it comes to trying to break bad habits. The best thing to do is to keep going. Don’t beat yourself up over it.

Use it as motivation to try harder. Instead of focusing on what you did, focus on how you can not do that in the future. This will keep your head in the right place. 

Additional Tips for Success

Tell Some Friends

Gif of a bird on a phone saying let's talk.

Friends and family members are great at helping stay on track. They will remind you and make sure you are doing what you need to. 

Also, when you tell friends about your intentions to quit something, you don’t want to disappoint them. It’s a lot easier to ration with yourself about why it’s okay to give in. Friends and family will keep you honest.

Friends and family will also be there if setbacks happen. They will be that shoulder to lean on and hopefully encourage getting back on the horse.

Positive Internal Language

How we talk to ourselves controls a lot in our life. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the law of attraction but the whole concept behind it is positive internal talk.

This positive mindset means two things. First, try to avoid telling yourself you can’t do it. Instead, tell yourself when you do it. Next, don’t be negative about setbacks and moments of weakness. Everyone has moments of weakness. It’s how we handle those moments that define us.

Start Small

A wise man said asked me “How do you eat a whole cow?” I said, “I don’t know”. He said “One bite at a time”.

This saying goes for many things in our lives and breaking a bad habit is no different. Even small changes make a difference. They eventually lead to or add up to big changes.

If you have a messy house, you may want to commit to picking up at least one item a day. If you are feeling motivated you can pick up more but only commit to one item. One item is so easy you can’t fail. This will lead to a clean house in no time because these little victories are motivating and lead to big changes.

Use the Power of Visualization

Image of an eye.

Visualization is extremely powerful if done correctly. It sets a roadmap for our subconscious to follow. In less than 5 minutes you can help reinforce your goals and desires.

One of the best things is that you already know all the basics of visualizing something. You just close your eyes and see yourself as the person that has already achieved what you are trying to achieve. 

Reward Yourself

I was at a dolphin show not too long ago, and you know how they train dolphins? They start with simple tasks and every time the dolphin performs what the trainer is asking they get a treat. If they don’t do it they don’t get punished, they just don’t get a treat. Eventually, the dolphins are doing flips on command.

This same concept of positive reinforcement works with us too. If you are making progress, give yourself a treat. Reward yourself for doing a good job. You’ve earned it.

Give Yourself Time

Change rarely happens overnight. It takes time to make changes in our life. Especially if they are big changes.

We as humans typically want everything to happen right now, but it doesn’t normally work out that way. Allow yourself the time to make the change before you start telling yourself that it’s not working.

Join a Group

Groups are a great way of hooking up with people similar to you. Many people have gone through or still are going through the struggle you are going through. 

If you are facing something like alcoholism, there are groups like alcoholics anonymous. You can find a chat group for just about anything just by doing a quick Google search. 

Final Thoughts

It may seem daunting when you set out on a journey to break bad habits. You probably won’t break all your bad habits at once. Just take one bite at a time, and before you know it you will have made a ton of progress.

With the right mindset, you will achieve great things. 

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