27 Steps to Break Your Bad Habits: The Ultimate Guide

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Habits run our daily life.  Pretty much everything you do is based on a habit you’ve developed at some point in your life.

Some habits are helpful, while others can also work against you.  Even worse – there are a few “bad habits” that can have a negative, long-term impact on your capacity to live a fulfilling life.

Smoking.  Hoarding.  Eating junk food.  Drinking too much alcohol.  Even spending too much time on the Internet.  We all have those bad habits we’d like to break.

Fortunately, it is possible to eliminate a negative routine – all you need is a plan-of-action.

In this lengthy article, we’ll cover 27 strategies to teach you how to break bad habits.  Specifically, you’ll learn how to how to get rid of bad habits in four distinct phases:

  • Plan for the Habit Change
  • Understand Your Habit Loop/ How to Form a Habit
  • Build a Support System
  • Overcome Challenges

I encourage you to take notes or print out this article because each of these strategies builds on one another.  Then, once you’ve completed this article, I recommend picking your worst habit and creating a plan for how you’ll overcome it.

Let’s get started by talking about the first phase.

(Side note: Another positive ​way to improve your life is to read and learn something new every day. A great tool to do this is to join over 1 million others and start your day with the latest FREE, informative news from this website.)

 

Phase I: Plan for the Habit Change

Before doing anything else, you must prepare for a habit change.  Odds are you’ve tried to break this routine in the past.  And in all likelihood, you failed because you didn’t have a plan or relied too much on willpower.

Past failure doesn’t mean you’ll fail in the future.  Usually, it’s a direct result of not having a solid strategy for breaking this bad habit.  In other words, you didn’t follow the age-old adage:

So before doing anything else, you should implement these seven strategies to make sure you’re positioned for success.

Strategy #1: Focus on One Habit at a Time

In psychology, there is a term called ego depletion, which basically means your willpower has a limited amount of energy every day.  When it’s overexerted, it becomes hard to control your impulses.

In a way, willpower is like a muscle.  It can get tired and worn out from too much use.  If your days are filled with stress and constant battles to control your emotions or thinking, you often won’t have the capacity to resist temptations.

How does this affect habit development?

It’s simple.  You won’t succeed if you try to change multiple habits at the same time.  Each one requires a significant amount of willpower to resist, which leaves you in a glucose-depleted state.

Most people don’t have the “willpower energy” to focus on multiple habits.  So when they’re in a depleted state, it becomes too easy to give up on all of them, instead of just one.

Strategy #2: Do a 30 Day Habit Challenge

Your goal for the next month or so is to focus on eliminating one habit.  That’s why you need to have 100% commitment.  The easiest way to do this is through a 30 Day Habit Challenge (30DHC).

A 30DHC is where you structure your entire life around the completion of one specific habit goal.  Sure, you’ll do other things, but a large amount of your time (and willpower) will be spent working towards this goal.

Sometimes 30 days isn’t enough.  For the really challenging habits, like smoking or drinking, you’ll need more time to make this change stick.  Don’t be afraid to plan for more time.  There’s nothing wrong with blocking out 60 to 90 days to focus on this goal.

Strategy #3: Set a Start Date

Write down the date where you’ll start this habit change.   It’s important to take this goal seriously, so having an official “countdown” will help you stay on track.  Moreover, you should tell friends and family about this goal to get their support.  (More on this later.)

Having a specific start date creates energy and excitement for this new change.  Your aim is to dramatically improve your life, so you should feel energized about this countdown.

Strategy #4: Identify the Target Goal

Eliminating bad habits is like setting a goal.  You won’t achieve it, without having a specific outcome in mind coupled with a target date.

For instance, you can’t say: “I want to eat healthier.” 

Instead, you need to identify what foods to eat, what to avoid and the date when this change will happen.

So a better goal would be:  “On August 1st, I will no longer eat fast food from places like McDonald’s or Burger King.  Instead, I will eat home-cooked meals that combine vegetables, lean protein, and unrefined carbohydrates.” 

Notice how this outcome has a deadline with a specific outcome.  By August 1st, you’ll know if it’s working or not.  That’s how you set a goal for breaking a habit!

Strategy #5: Avoid Cold Turkey Solutions  

We’ve all tried the “cold turkey” solution before.  You make a promise that you’ll never do a bad habit again and then a few days later, you’re doing the exact routine you swore to forever eliminate.

True, quitting cold turkey sometimes works.  We all know someone who gave up smoking or drinking through a force of will without falling off the wagon.  But for every success story, there are hundreds of people who try the “cold turkey” solution on a regular basis, only to experience failure each time.

The main problem with cold turkey is the overemphasis on perfection.

Most people have this negative mindset:

One mistake = FAILURE!

Nobody is perfect.  Having a goal of never again leaves you with no wiggle-room when you cave into the temptation of doing the habit you’re trying to eliminate.  Trust me, we all slip from time to time, so focusing on perfection is not the way to change a routine.

Moreover, cold turkey can make a bad habit even worse.  Often when people have a “100% perfect goal” they develop a “what the hell” mindset when they make a mistake.

By doing the bad habit, they’ve already broken their never again rule.  So they subconsciously decide that since they’ve already done it one time, they might as well go on a binge.  The result?  The person will do more of the habit than they ever did before.  (More on this later.)

Strategy #6: Set a Baseline Metric

The best way to make a permanent change is to focus on daily, incremental improvements.  Your aim is to wean yourself off this habit by setting target goals where you consistently decrease the quantity or time that you do it.

The process of establishing a baseline metric is key!

This metric can vary according to the specific habit you’re trying to change:

  • The number of cigarettes smoked every day
  • The times each day you bite your fingernails
  • How much you currently weigh
  • The number of calories you consume on a daily basis
  • How many drinks you consume while “going out”
  • The amount of time spent on Facebook or surfing the Internet
  • The amount of time spent watching television

Strategy #7: Create Incremental Goals 

Like I’ve said, quitting cold turkey isn’t a realistic long-term goal.  Instead, it’s better to focus on incremental goals where you slowly move away from doing the bad habit.

EXAMPLE: Let’s say you’re a smoker who averages 20 cigarettes a day.   Your ultimate goal when you think about how to change bad habits is to get rid of the bad habit entirely.  But for now, you will just stick to incremental goals:

  • 15 cigarettes each day for weeks 1 to 2
  • 10 cigarettes each day for weeks 3 to 4
  • 5 cigarettes each day for weeks 5 to 6
  • 3 cigarettes each day for weeks 7 to 8
  • 1 (or less) cigarettes each day for weeks 9 and beyond

Obviously, your numbers will be different.  Plus, there will be times when you’ll fail with this goal.  The key here is to make slow changes to your life.  Breaking a habit in a methodical manner gives your body and mind a chance to diminish its constant craving.

Phase II: Understand Your Habit Loop

Since you’re a reader of DevelopGoodHabits.com, I’ll assume you’re interested in making a permanent change to your life.  In reality, it’s not enough to make incremental changes.  The best long-term strategy is to identify your habit loops and understand the underlying motivations behind each routine.

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about “habit loops,” which are the actions that bring you from cue to reward.  Understand these actions and you’ll take that first step towards making a permanent lifestyle change.

The best way to forever eliminate a habit is to slowly replace or “imprint” negative habits with healthier routines.  That means instead of focusing on what you’re missing, you’ll follow new routines that give you the same reward.

Once you’ve scheduled a “start date,” you’ll follow these strategies to reprogram your mind:

Strategy #8: Identify the Habit Routine

Every habit follows the same three-step pattern:

  1. The Cue: A situational trigger that is based on a reward you’re seeking.
  2. The Reward: The satisfaction you seek by following the routine.
  3. The Routine: A physical or emotional action you take to obtain the reward.

To illustrate this concept, check out this flowchart that Duhigg offers on his blog:

how to break bad habits flowchart

All habits have actions and thoughts that occur beforehand.   The cue is the trigger that creates a craving to get a reward.  The routine is the action you take to satisfy this impulse.  The reward is the satisfaction you feel from following this routine or it’s the removal of stress that the cue created.

The best way to understand this process is to go over each of the individual components, so let’s talk about how to do that.

Strategy #9: Record the Habit Triggers

We are constantly bombarded with cues to take certain actions.  Sometimes they’re external where sight, sound, or smell creates a craving.  Other times, it’s an internal sensation that sparks this desire.

To make a permanent change, you need to fully understand when and why these “triggers” occur.  You can easily do this by recording five pieces of information whenever you feel the need to complete a bad habit:

  1. Location: Record where you are
  2. Time: Write down the exact time when you felt the urge
  3. Mood: Record your emotional state
  4. People: Who is with you or who is around you?
  5. Action: What did you just do? What are you currently doing?

The key to this exercise is repetition.  Focus on recording these five data points in the first few weeks of the new habit change.  Do this for awhile and you’ll notice a number of patterns that provide amazing insight into your bad habit.

EXAMPLE: Let’s say you’re trying to curb your consumption of alcohol.  On the surface, it might seem like an innocent activity.  But this drinking habit has led to a number of problems: arguments at home decreased productivity at work and even a DUI last month.  What was once a fun activity has now turned into a serious issue.

In addition to seeking help from others (more on this later), you’d get insight into this habit by tracking its triggers.  After careful recording, you notice that these five patterns stand out:

  1. Location: At O’Brien’s Bar & Grille
  2. Time: 3:13 PM
  3. Mood: Stressed out
  4. People: With “The Guys” – Frank, Bill, and Dave
  5. Action: Watching the baseball game

Let's say your goal is to minimize your drinking.  So after tracking this habit for a few weeks, you realize that the problem mostly occurs when you’re stressed out or feel like hanging out “The Guys” and watching the ballgame.

By analyzing these triggers, you now know that your drinking is caused by a desire to feel relaxed and reduce stress.  More importantly, it’s an activity you prefer to share with other people.

Strategy #10: Try Different Rewards

The interesting thing about bad habits is they often come from a desire to get a subconscious reward.  Usually, we do them because we want to feel relaxed, happy, energized, accepted or loved.  The good news is you can substitute the bad habit and still get this positive result.

That’s why it’s important to experiment with various rewards.  Create a few different strategies you’ll implement whenever you experience a cue.  The goal here is to find a positive routine that will provide the same feeling you get with a bad habit, without following the negative routine.

 EXAMPLE: Let’s go back to the example from before – consuming too much alcohol.  After identifying triggers for a few days, you realize that the drinking habit comes from a need to feel relaxed and reduce stress.  It’s also a byproduct of a desire to socialize and have fun.

So you can plan different strategies whenever you feel the need to relax:

  • Going for a 10-minute walk around the neighborhood
  • Avoiding O’Brien’s Bar & Grille
  • Doing a different activity with friends instead of drinking
  • Making new connections and building up your social network
  • Mediating for a half-hour

Not all of these strategies will be right for your situation, but this strategy is important because you’re trying to find that one new routine that provides a reward that's similar to the bad habit.

Strategy #11: See What Works

Whenever you follow a new routine, take stock of your mood afterward to see if you still feel a desire to do the bad habit.  If it’s still there, then you know the result of this new routine is not the reward you’re seeking.

Let’s go back to our drinking example.

You found that exercise and meditation aren't reducing your stress levels.  What did work was forming new friendships with people who don't spend their time in a bar?  These positive people help you feel relaxed, which ultimately minimizes the tense feeling you experience before having a drink.

Moreover, you know that Dave (one of your buddies from O'Brien's Bar & Grille) loves hiking, which is an activity you also enjoy.  This means you can minimize your drinking while staying connected to one of your friends.

Whenever you experience a “bad habit trigger,” you should substitute it with a new routine.  This will be hard to do at first, but eventually, you’ll start to follow a different routine without thinking about it.

Sidebar: Sometimes you’ll realize that certain people trigger bad habits.  That means you have to make a decision – either you spend less time with them or you keep doing something that’s not good for you.

Sure, it’s not easy to “let go” of certain people, but sometimes you need to sacrifice the relationships that lead to self-destructive habit loops.

Strategy #12: Formulate a Plan for Breaking your Bad Habit

It’ll take a few weeks of experimentation to identify the perfect replacement habit, but eventually, you’ll find something that works.  At this point, you should align your actions to this activity instead of the bad habit.

The best way to make a lasting change is to follow a step-by-step plan whenever you experience an impulse.  Get started by taking the common triggers from strategy #9 and creating a plan for each of these cues.

The goal with this exercise is to reprogram your mind to take a different action, even when you feel a craving to do the bad habit.

EXAMPLE: Once again, let’s go back to the drinking example.  Here are a few new strategies you can follow:

  • “When Dave invites me to O’Brien’s, I will suggest a hike instead.”
  • “On ‘Football Sunday,’ I will go to activities from Meetup.com instead of hitting the bar.”
  • “At 5:00 every day, I will go for a 30-minute walk to reduce stress”

What you’re doing here is identifying your “weak spots” and creating a plan for how you’ll act.  This will be your first line of defense against a bad habit impulse.  So whenever this craving strikes, you’ll know exactly what to do instead.

Strategy #13: Understand the “Hot-Cold Empathy Gap”

“All plans are great until the first shot is fired.” –  An old military expression

Every plan looks perfect on paper, but they rarely work when you experience a major temptation.  You might do well for a while, but it’s hard to stick to a new routine when your life is full of stress and triggers.

Moreover, it’s hard to remember what it’s like to feel that psychological and physiological craving when you’re making a plan.  You might say you’ll never cave in, but this hard to do when you’re stressed, tired and just want to do the one thing you’re trying to eliminate.

When this happens, it’s important to remember something that George Loewenstein discovered in one of his studies.  Basically he determined that people suffer from a hot-cold empathy gap when it comes to the plans we make for dealing with temptation.

When it comes to the hot-cold empathy gap, people often fail to predict how they’ll feel in a “hot state” when there’s a strong desire to do a bad habit.  In other words, no amount of planning will help understand what it's like to experience a strong craving.

My point?

While planning is important, you’ll also need a strategy for dealing with slip-ups.  Just remember that mistakes are mistakes.  Caving in doesn’t mean you’re weak.   Instead, accept that occasionally giving into a desire is a natural part of making a permanent habit change.

Strategy #14: Use “Habit Reminders” to Stay the Course

Habit reminders are a great way to keep following a new routine.  These can be written down on a piece of paper that you keep with you at all times or they can be part of an alert that pops up on your mobile phone.  Yes, these reminders might seem silly, but they’re a great way to keep this habit change at the forefront of your mind.

Phase III: Build a Support System to Help you Break your Bad Habit

Making a commitment to change yourself is just half the battle.  Really, you can’t make a lasting change on your own.  Instead, it’s important to build a support system of people who will help you follow through with this goal.

People can either make or break your success.  By including them in your habit change plan, you can get assistance whenever you’re feeling tempted or weak.

Here are a few strategies for creating a dynamic support system to help in changing bad habits.

Strategy #15: Keep an Accountability Journal

Track your day-to-day attempt to change a habit, including every stat or metric.  The more information you include, the easier it is to understand what affects your mood or impulses.

Depending on the habit, here are a few things you can include in an accountability journal:

  • Number of times you do the bad habit
  • Amount of time you spend doing this activity
  • Total calories, broken down by individual foods
  • Current weight and/or body mass index
  • Feeling, emotions and impulses
  • Challenges you’re currently experiencing

EXAMPLE: Let’s say you want to quit smoking.  Every day, you would target the maximum number of cigarettes you want to smoke.  Then you’d record the amount you actually smoked.  Plus you’d record the feelings and impulses that led you to light up.

The key with an accountability journal is to provide 100% disclosure.  You need to write down everything– even if you fail with your goal.

Want to learn more about journaling & accountability?heck out these informative blog posts where I look closely at aspects of both.

Strategy #16: Make a Public Declaration

Social networks have become a major part of our daily existence.  A great way to harness these friendships is to request support for your habit change goal.

Nobody wants to look bad.  Post updates on your habit change on your social media account and you’ll get encouragement from your friends.  This can be a simple Tweet or Facebook post.  Or you can use a mobile phone app like Coach.me, which automatically updates your account with progress reports.

Never underestimate the power of social approval.  Simply knowing you have to be accountable for your actions keeps you focused on a habit change.

Strategy #17: Find an Accountability Partner

You don’t need to walk this road alone.  Instead, you should regularly communicate with someone who shares a similar desire to make a lasting change.  Talk or meet with this person a few times each week to share your experiences.  You can even take it one step further and follow a new routine with each other – like walking 10,000 steps.

Another idea is to find a “sponsor” who can help you get through those moments of weakness.  Simply call this person when you’re feeling weak and they’ll get you past this temptation.

An accountability partner doesn’t have to live nearby.  It’s not too hard to meet people on forums and Facebook groups who share a similar desire to develop good habits.  All you have to do is install a tool like Skype and you can talk for five minutes, a few times each week.

[Want to benefit from an accountability partner. Read this post that shows everything you need to know about finding an accountability partner. Why it works. How to find a partner. And ideas to make the most having an accountability partner]

Strategy #18: Ignore the Naysayers

Sadly, there will be people, such as fake friends, who will subconsciously (or consciously) try to sabotage your efforts at self-improvement.  They could be random strangers, close friends or even family members.  Their words can be poison because they’ll flood your mind with self-limiting beliefs.  Listen to their “advice” at your own peril.  The moment you start believing them, is the moment you’ll take that first step towards failure.

Having a plan for handling naysayers is as important as knowing what to do when you’re tempted by an impulse.  You need to know what to say and what to do whenever a person says something that causes you to second-guess a habit change.  My suggestion is to find a way to ignore their comments or immediately rebuff these statements.

Strategy #19: Avoid Trigger Locations

People aren’t the only triggers for a bad habit.  Sometimes a location can cause an impulse to follow a specific routine.

During the weeks while you’re trying to change a routine, you’ll want to avoid the places that cause a negative habit loop.

For instance, many people smoke while they’re drinking.  So if you’re looking to break the bad habit of smoking then the best thing you can do is avoid the bar scene.   Yes, this might mean ditching your friends for a while, but this strategy can help you minimize the impulses you’ll feel to light up.

Strategy #20: Seek Professional Help

Let’s be honest here – some habits require a higher level of expertise that goes beyond reading a piece of online content.  Often, you’ll need to seek out professional help or attend regular meetings to overcome a strong addiction.

There are many routines that require professional help – alcoholism, drug addiction, binge eating, chain-smoking and eating disorders.  I can’t tell you where the line is, but you might be at a point where you need help from an expert on addiction.

 There are a few ways you can implement this strategy:

  • Talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist
  • Join a group like NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)
  • Join a local weight group that emphasizes permanent life changes instead of fad diets
  • Ask your doctor about different (non-addictive) solutions to battle cravings

Don’t be afraid to get help from others.   You might have an addiction that you can’t overcome by following a simple checklist.  Odds are, if you think you have a real problem, then it might be time to go get the assistance you really need.

Phase IV: Overcome Challenges Inherent in Breaking Bad Habits

Remember our discussion of the hot-cold empathy gap?  This is something you’ll encounter while trying to do any major habit challenge.  The key to overcoming this empathy gap is to follow a few specific strategies.  Simply implement the following and you’ll be able to overcome any moment of weakness or temptation:

Strategy #21: Live a Healthy Lifestyle

Like I mentioned before, ego depletion can leave your willpower in a weakened state.  If you’re always tired, hungry, stressed or depressed, you’ll increase the likelihood that you’ll succumb to temptation.

A simple way to fight ego depletion is to live a healthy lifestyle.  Since this problem is largely caused by a low level of glucose, you can fight temptation by:

  • Getting a full night’s sleep to feel energized in the morning
  • Staying hydrated – drinking at least eight, 8-ounce cups of water every day
  • Eating a balanced meal every day – including fruits, vegetables, (good) carbohydrates and lean protein
  • Carrying healthy snacks with you when you feel hungry
  • Exercising to reduce stress and maintain optimal weight

Don’t underestimate the power of the mind-body connection.  When you live a balanced, healthy life, breaking a bad habit becomes that much easier.

(To learn more about this strategy, check out my Kindle book – 70 Healthy Habits: How to Eat Better, Feel Great, Get More Energy and Have a Healthy Lifestyle.)

Strategy #22: Remain Positive

We all experience temptations from our bad habits.  This is a natural part of the process, so don’t let these feelings get you down.

The trick is to know what to do whenever you have an impulse.  The moment you experience a cue for a bad habit, reaffirm your commitment to stick to the new plan.

You can even recite a simple mantra whenever you experience a moment of weakness.  This could be a silly phrase that you repeat on a regular basis like:  “smoke-free in three months.”  Say this over and over whenever you feel the urge to light up.

[Get some tips about how to be more positive]

Strategy #23: Beware the “What-the-Hell Effect”

As we’ve discussed, it’s easy to slip up with a goal.  What you can’t afford to do is develop the “what the hell mindset” where you basically give up and go on a binge because you’ve already “failed” for the day.

So while it’s okay to slip up from time to time, what you can’t do is go off the deep end if you succumb to temptation.  Yes, tomorrow is another day, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to go do too much of a bad habit.

For instance, let’s say your goal is to smoke less than 10 cigarettes a day.  Unfortunately one day you slip up and smoke 12 instead.  What you shouldn’t do is follow the mindset that says: “what the hell, since I’ve already smoked 12 cigarettes, I might as well enjoy the rest of the day and light up whenever I feel like it.”

The what-the-hell effect can be a dangerous threat to your habit change.  Whenever you slip up, simply accept this failure and focus on minimizing the damage.  More importantly, never use this as an excuse to do more of the bad habit.

Strategy #24: Forgive Yourself

A major reason why people give up on a habit change is they don’t know what to do after they “fall off the wagon.”  Sure, they’ll strictly follow a goal for a few weeks, but they don’t know what to do when they slip up.  What often happens is they’ll use this mistake as an excuse to give up.

At the risk of sounding like a touchy-feely psychologist, what you need to do is forgive yourself.  We all make mistakes.  Beating yourself up over a slip-up is counterproductive to your long-term goals.

While it’s important to be strict about eliminating a bad habit, you want to avoid filling your head with negative thoughts.  A mistake is a mistake.  It doesn’t mean you’re weak-willed.  It means you’re human like the rest of us.

Strategy #25: Reward Yourself

Changing bad habits can be a grueling experience.   You can make it fun by rewarding yourself for achieving specific milestones.  The key here is to avoid any incentive that’s directly related to the activity you're trying to eliminate.

EXAMPLE: For every week you meet a weight loss goal, you could treat yourself to a movie or a small shopping spree.  But you’d want to avoid the all-you-can-eat buffet at Golden Corral.

Set rewards for your habit change.  Create incentives for the 1st day, 1st week, 2nd week, 1st month, 3rd month, 6th month and year milestones.  The more goals you create, the more you’ll stay focused on the habit change.

[Get ideas on how to reward yourself]

Strategy #26: Review Your Plan Daily

Eliminating a bad habit is like any other long-term goal.  Basically you need daily commitments and reminders to stick with the plan.

One strategy is to turn your habit change into a goal that you review every single day.  For instance, I have a morning routine where I go over all my goals and reaffirm the commitment to make changes in my life.  (You can learn more about this morning routine in my book, Wake Up Successful)

Strategy #27: Take it Day-by-Day

Don’t worry about tomorrow or next year.  Instead, focus on that next impulse, trigger or cue.  Have a plan for what you’ll do today and leave tomorrow for tomorrow.

In a way, changing a habit is like running a marathon.  You’d go crazy if you thought about running 26.2 miles, but it’s easy to do if you focus on getting to the next mile.  Stay focused on what you need to do right now and try to ignore what will happen in the future.

With this mindset, you’ll slowly make incremental changes. At first, you might not notice a shift in your habits.  However, on a long enough timeline, you’ll start to develop a permanent change to your routine.  Whereas you used to cave into a bad habit impulse, you now can resist this urge.

How to Break Bad Habits (A Quick Recap…)

How to break bad habits is an involved topic. So it has taken us a while to get here.  So I think it's important to recap what we learned.  To keep things simple, I've put the entire post on how to get rid of bad habits into a simple SlideShare presentation:

The Long-Term Plan for How to Break Bad Habits

Breaking a bad habit is an ongoing process that doesn’t happen overnight.  Throughout this article, you’ve learned 27 strategies that will help you make a lasting change.   But at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that they’re just tips.

Real results come from you taking action.  I recommend you print out this article and go step-by-step through each idea.  Start by selecting one bad habit and making an aggressive attempt to completely eliminate it.

You may do your best, and find that you unconsciously sabotage your own efforts at habit change.  If you consistently behave in ways that cause you to be unhappy or unhealthy, you may be psychologically attached to the bad habits.

If you have any other specific personal development problems, I suggest reading far and wide on your specific subject. While I would hope you enjoy some of my books, there are a ton of good ones out there that can help you through your issues.  I have collected a list of 200 +self-help books that can help you with a wide variety of issues.  This list is divided into sections to help you find just what you are looking for, and will only grow in time with YOUR input.

If you're looking for a bit of inspiration, check out our list of favorite songs about change and starting a new life.

Just remember that changing bad habits requires a daily commitment.  Work hard to stay focused, but don’t agonize over every failure.  The important thing is to keep at it and learn from each impulse or trigger, and you will kick a bad habit in no time whatsoever.

Finally, if you want another positive ​way to improve your life, then read and learn something new every day. A great tool to do this is to join over 1 million others and start your day with the latest FREE, informative news from this website.

 

Know how to break a bad habit? Quitting a habit can be broken down into a simple process with four phases and 27 steps. Learn how to make that change.

27 Steps to Break Your Bad Habits: The Ultimate Guide

33 thoughts on “27 Steps to Break Your Bad Habits: The Ultimate Guide”

  1. Strategy 7 is one that works well for me.

    Whenever I’ve been on an extended vacation where I can’t workout regularly, the hardest thing once I get home is to get back to my workout routine.

    So what I finally figured out is if I’ll just commit to ten minutes (typical workout is 45 minutes) then I’ll do it. Often I stay longer but it doesn’t even matter because the next day I’m there for 10-15 minutes and on I go.

    Otherwise, in the past, what would happen is a prolonged period of down time before I’d force myself back into the routine.

    Works like a charm.

    ~ darlene 🙂

    • Excellent points Darlene. I found the same thing happened to me as well. When I created a massive goal, it was hard to stick to it. But by committing to a smaller one, it was easier to squeeze into my day. I love your idea of focusing on exercising for 10 minutes — there’s no excuses there because anyone can find ten minutes in their day.

  2. Hi S.J.

    Great and Rich post on strategies to break a bad habit!

    All your points are spot on and very helpful. I have a bad habit with sticking to a diet program and an exercise program and I found strategies 2, 4, 7, 22, 24 and 27 to be a great strategies to follow. I already started with strategy # 2 and the other strategies will help tremendously.

    Thanks S.J. for sharing these wonderful strategies. We all have some bad habits we need to stop or get rid of and I am sure this post will help many others to take control of their habits instead of their habits taking control of them. Have a great rest of the week.

    Be Blessed,

    Neamat

    • Hey Neamat — Thanks for stopping by! Glad to see taking advantage of strategy #2 (aka: the 30 day habit challenge)… that one has made a huge difference in my life. I definitely agree that we all have bad habits to get rid of. While I understand all of this stuff, I still have to work on certain things. I guess it’s a work in progress 🙂

  3. Hi Steve

    This is my first comment on any piece from your body of work, and I have read all I can lay my hands on. I could have thanked you much earlier, and often, for taking the shades off my eyes with your clear,detailed and insightful life strategies.

    This is another invaluable aid for those who wish, in effect, to take action towards controlling their lives for the better.

    As possibly one of your more ‘mature’ (i.e. older, more senior,or whatever ) readers, I would add this thought: It is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks for a better life. In my view, self-improvement should be a lifetime quest.

    Many thanks once again.

    Regards

    Michael

    • Hey Michael,

      Thanks for stopping by! I completely agree – self-improvement should be a lifelong goal. My dad is retired and doesn’t have to work, yet he’s always finding ways to improve his to-do list and become a better person. So he’s a good example of someone who is always trying to work on himself.

      Well, glad you liked the article. We all have bad habits, so it helps to have some sort of strategy for addressing each issue and finding a way to overcome it.

      Cheers,
      Steve

  4. Hi SJ,

    It’s great to be at your blog!

    Your post was brilliant! In particular I loved reading the way you advised on creating goals the proper way through being specific and making incremental changes. I could really resonate with what you wrote about the pitfalls of the cold turkey approach. People do make the error, as you said, of believing that one mistake means failure. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Thank you.

    • Hey Hiten — Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. It is sad to see so many people give up after one “failure.” I think that’s why many people stop a new habit because they don’t know how to bounce back after a setback.

  5. Wow did you put together a list. After years of collecting and keeping things that I don’t use or need I have made a comment to get rid of it. I made my goal easy to achieve. Toss one thing out a day. One is it not a hardship, and the most important is the instant gratification of getting rid of something. If I have not seen, or used something in 3 years out it goes. Now I think twice before I buy, I don’t want to replace what I am throwing out and start that bad habit all over again.

    • That’s a good habit to work on. I find that less “clutter” generally makes me happier and productive. One trick you might want to try is the “touch test,” where you physically put a hand on an item and take a second to decide if REALLY want to keep this item. I don’t know why, but the act of touching items helps you bypass that cursory, “yeah, I’ll keep that” mentality we all have when trying to get rid of stuff.

    • Arleen
      I did my training contract as a lawyer (in London) 20+ years ago. Most useful tip was a variation of this:

      Every time you touch a piece of paper, use your pen to put a “dot” or an “X” on it. It will horrify you the number of times you’ve fiddled with, read, dumped that piece of paper. More time ususally than dealing with it in the first place!

      I’ve found that invaluable over the years – shames a procrastinator like me into getting on with it OR delegating it, as appropriate.

  6. SJ, why don’t you break down some major problem of our planet? You seem to be able to break down absolutely everything! 😉
    #6, #15, #26 – In my opinion an awarness is a key to a habit change. When I’ve got an awarness about my vices through meditation on my life I was able to go “cold turkey” and win.
    #27 – “You cannot act in the future (…) Whatever your action is to be, it is evident that you must act NOW.” It’s connected with the 3 above points.
    #24 – “You cannot act in the past”. When I got over munching my past failures my progress grew expotentially. Beating yourself is such a waste of time. Learn and move forward.

    PS. All of quotes are from Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles

  7. This is absolutely amazing…I neves saw nothig like this explanation! Soy simple, and yet tottaly complete! I just got one of your books, and this post is awesome. Really, when I got to Step 2 of this blog, that only 2 first point absolutley worth it!

    Thanks S.J

    Greetings from Argentina 🙂

    • Thanks Pablo, really glad you liked it! and thanks for grabbing one of my books! Which one did you happen to get?

      Anyhow, I worked hard on this post trying to make it a very solid resource in and of itself, so I am glad you got some good info from it. Stop back again and let me know how you liked the book. Have a wonderful day and a great holiday season.

  8. This is an amazing article! I had no idea that there were so many practical steps that you can take to support yourself to make a change.

    The biggest one I slip up on is ‘Cold Turkey’ because I am such a ‘go for it’ type person and then feel disappointed when I make a slip up. All of these tips will help me – thank you Scott.

    Smiles
    Jess

    • Thanks Jess, glad you liked it.

      Cold Turkey is a big one for many people. One of the many reasons it can wreck havoc is because it does sometimes work, this makes it tough to simply say, “don’t do it”.

      Hope some of these ideas help, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

      -S

  9. Great article SJ
    I particularly like the incremental goals for changing a habit (#7)
    and the habit flowchart is great.
    With that on the wall as a reminder it should be easy to replace old bad habit patterns with new good ones.
    Great stuff.
    Thanks,
    Ian

  10. Steve

    I’ve read a few articles and reports of yours. One thing I learned from counselling is that the “what the hell!” attitude is potentially played out from a “victim” mentality – one that tells me that I’m not good enough, not strong enough, poor me, so why bother? Just from one slip up.

    As well as being toxic, it makes a great excuse to dip out of something because I’ve been programmed to self-sabotage – and then reinforce the “not good enough, poor me” routine.

    I think that the flowchart, in support of all your tips, is a great tool, IF we are all painfully honest with ourselves in identifying and documenting the cues and rewards particularly.

    Two points I’d add from my own personal experience – don’t know if it would be of help to others – are that:

    (i) a key driver for me was that, subconsciously, I didn’t WANT to change. Change was a terrifying unknown and I was scared of having huge regrets that I couldn’t deal with, flowing from that change. Making one change, recognising that it wasn’t cataclysmic – hugely liberating. And the emphasis of your work is, large or small in overall terms, one change is all you need to make;

    (ii) I also had a mindset of “types” of people – I’m not the “type” of person who has the motivation and self-discipline to run every day, or to got to the gym every day. I am the “type” of person who prefers to sit and read for hours. Nice way to compartmentalise, and refuse to see the holistic me – I’m lots of “types”. Your comment in another report that it’s not “types” but “habits” that I’m labelling (e.g. someone who has the “habit” of going to the gym) blows my excuses out of the water.

    Thank you so much for the generosity of spirit to share this knowledge and insight for free – and for working so hard to improve it – it is greatly appreciated!

    Regards from London!

    Denise

    • Denise,

      No doubt! Self doubt is a big component of the “what the hell effect”.

      I also love your additional personal points here. YOu really make some great points. There are many time, I feel, that the “what the hell” can be driven by an excuse mentality that a people just do not “really” desire the change.

      As for your “type” of person… I can totally understand where you are coming from there too, Being a big reader, nothing woulf make me happier than sitting around and reading all day. IN my mind this is why I MUST expend a lot of effort and time to make sure that I do not succumb to this. It leads me to create habits and routine and work at it until that becomes my norm -because if i did not, I would never get anything done. Just watch good movies, TV and read good books.

      Thanks for a great comment. Glad to hear from you,

      Best wishes,

      Steve

  11. Scott,

    Great post! I’ve figured out over time that I cannot have sugar, breads, sweets, dairy, etc. regularly or even once a week. It’s too easy for me to “back-slide” at that interval. I only need to have these items “on occasion”. Or better yet, rarely. Here’s my food flowchart:

    Is this food healthy for me?

    Yes – Eat it
    No – see next question

    Is this a special occasion i.e. birthday, wedding, holiday, etc?

    Yes – Eat and enjoy the celebration
    No – see next question

    Has it been a month since you’ve had this food?

    Yes – See next question
    No – Don’t eat it

    Is it homemade or an item I cannot get easily (from a specialty store from your hometown and/or you cannot get this food anywhere else or your mom’s pecan pie)?

    Yes, – Eat and enjoy guilt-free
    No – Don’t eat it

    I haven’t decided whether I’m going to do this for alcohol as I don’t really drink all that much and rarely during the work week. Everyone is different. Some people can handle once-a-week cheat days/meals, and go right back to their regular eating patterns. I have trouble with it, so this is what I’m going with for now. Always a work in progress. You’ll also figure out what foods you truly love versus foods you simply “like”.

    Mike

    • Michael,

      Love the idea of a flowchart like this. Food specifically something that is important to allow yourself a “little” room for cheating since it is impossible to just say, “I will never eat” and since you MUST eat why not SOMETIMES enjoy yourself a little bit.

      The only thing I would add on your chart is a final “portion size” control check.

      IE.

      Have I had a single serving size portion already of this food I love:

      No – Keep enjoying
      Yes – Stop eating.

      With many things (specifically with food) it is the AMOUNT we have that is more important than the fact that we indulge.

      Thanks for a great comment and a nice idea about your flowchart. (I am a guy who really appreciates flowcharts and lists)

  12. This is really a wonderful Guidance .The Strategy #9 worked well with me ,especially recording the Mood .I could find out a surprise coincident , that most of the time when I failed I was in same mood .Now whenever I am in that mood ,I am anticipating a probable failure chance and succeed a lot to avoid it.

    Jeby

  13. It is very difficult to give up bad habit with good habit. You need to make good friends circle which helps you in quitting the bad habbit. You can also take the help of good informative and spritituals books also.

  14. What if it’s a habit that you have and you don’t even realize when is it that it happens instead is your partner who’s constantly telling you you did this and you just don’t remember doing it. This is affecting my relationship it’s got to the point that my partner rather not go out wit me. The problem is that I look at the opposite sex even by glancing and it bothers my partner. Help me please I’m trying to figure out how to deal with this issue. What I realize is that when I start to think or have as you may say a conversation with in myself I kind of tend to look in my surrounding that much I had figure out. It’s not a specific place or time

    • Jay,

      On some level this bad habit is a “guy” thing. Most guys do it without realizing it somewhat. But it sounds like you might do it pretty badly if it is affecting your relationship to that effect. My suggestion has two levels.

      1. Substitute the bad habit. If you eyes dart around dart around the room constantly you may unconsciously catch site of those pretty ladies, drawing your eye after them without thought. Rather than concentrating on the “don’t follow women with my eyes) concetrate on the habit of locking your eyes on your girl. This will help her know you are interested.
      2. be more cognizant when you eyes do wander. IF you can sometimes notice you eyes wandering the room, you can be mindful and stop yourself before your girl notices. Best of luck.

    • Thanks for your good wishes but my partner is constantly watching me; my partner already expects me to fail. When I find something that is interesting I can remember what happened and it has to be a situation like i.e someone doing something wrong or annoying me in certain way then I remember but if it’s nothing that intrest me like I said I have other things in mind and I really don’t pay any attention in my surrounding as I believe. I just don’t recall look at a person. I just don’t know if it’s really me or my partner is too stricted. I love this person so much that having this issue hurts badly

  15. I am really dazzled by the amount of effort and work you’ve put in this article. EVERYONE should read this, honestly.

    I always had trouble with #24, or, forgiving myself. Everytime I relapsed to my bad habit – my choice of poison was heavy smoking – I would HATE myself. And then I would smoke some more. Repeat ad infinitum.

    I’d like to contribute by sharing an article on how to combat smoking specifically – a thing I’ve recently done to great success. Please, if you are suffering from a nicotine addiction, do read BOTH articles. I am certain they will be of help to you.

    http://ohealthyeah.com/stop-smoking/

    If even a single person finds my own sharing a useful contribution to this completely amazing post of yours, I will be happy.

    • Glad you liked it. I was wanting this to be the ultimate generic but also comprehensive guide top breaking bad habits. There are certainly more specific methods for breaking some bad habits. (Like your smoking post) that can help people with those tougher habits

  16. Hi S.J.

    Thankyou for the road map it is sensational and spot on. For me in my personal struggle I had difficulty identifying what it was about myself that I disliked and wanted to change since these were internal struggles which created behaviors that I disliked as well. Once I was taught how to identify these things everthing became clear of course I had to have a lot of honesty and had to look at things realistically which I got help with by talking about the things I was working on an getting opposing opinions. It is a daily routine for me to take stock of where I’m at with my habits which brought me to this piece. Once again Thankyou for the clear and concise guide it is something I intend to use regularly. I have also purchased your book “77 Good Habits To Live A better Life” and I look forward to reading this.

    Best Regards
    dg

    • Thanks for the kind words Doralynn. Hope you enjoy 77 good habits too! LEt me know what you think.

      Sounds like you are heading on the right path for some great habits/daily routines.

  17. After my researches on how to break bad habits, i think first you need to understand what is a habit loop with its 3 components:
    1. Cue – the cue is what triggers the habit
    2. Routine – the actual behavior of the habit
    3. Reward – the benefit you received from executing the routine, Not in a conscious level, because it’s about what gives dopamine pulses in the reward pathway in your brain
    Then you define these components for you bad habit, and there are some techniques to do that, but that needs a whole conference! I will just say that in general, here’s how it works.
    1. Identify the routine
    2. Experiment with rewards
    3. Isolate the cue
    4. Have a plan
    cues are boredom and/or stress (pains) as it can be a specific pleasure… Keep in mind! You brain loves pleasure and hates pain.
    Routine: is the behavior you hate about your bad habit,
    Reward is the thing you like about that habit (not consciously, your subconscious mind likes something about it) and that secrets dopamine in your mind that fixes the habit more and more with repetition
    Then you have to come up with a plan to manipulate these components in a way of changing only the routine (the part of your bad habit that you hate) and keep the same cue and reward! In this way, your brain is triggered with the same cue and receive the same reward but for a better behavior you choose instead of the current routine.
    I really recommend the course that helped me break my bad habits, it teaches you to come up with a personal and flexible plan to break bad habits with neuroplasticity in a very practical and simple way with many exercises! The instructor kept supporting me and there is a dedicated Facebook support group for the whole thing! That was an amazing experience! My life gets better now! I really think it’s what you need!
    Good luck

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