It’s natural for everyone to have habits; there’s nothing wrong with that. There are some useful ones – perhaps you lay out your clothes for work the night before or turn off the lights as soon as you leave a room. Other habits, however, like chewing on your nails, consuming caffeine late in the day, or hitting the snooze button too often, are not as beneficial. If you have been practicing an unhealthy habit for a long time, it can be difficult to break it.
With these ten tips, you can get rid of your old, stubborn habits.
- It’s okay to ask for help.
While you may have been able to break some habits on your own with effort and dedication, such as buying lunch every day or skipping the gym, things get more complicated when it comes to more severe habits.
Having the support of a trained mental health professional can make a profound difference. Especially if you’re dealing with more serious habits, such as emotional eating, obsessions, substance abuse, or addiction.
If you are struggling to deal with these issues alone, counselors and therapists can be of great support and guidance. Your mental health professional can help you successfully identify your triggers and examine anything preventing you from making a change. Additionally, they will discover what motivates you to make a change, view your progress from a different perspective, and help you combat negative self-talk.
You can also support your changes by enrolling in a rehab facility such as Delphi Health Group, where you can meet with professionals regularly. They can make customized plans for you to provide structure. Following a healthy routine will help you establish new habits. In time, a positive lifestyle may even become second nature to you.
- Put your focus on why you want to change.
What motivates you to break or change a certain habit? According to a 2012 study, changing your behavior is easier when it benefits you.
Think about why you want to break the habit and what benefits you see from making the change. These reasons may inspire you to think of a few you hadn’t considered before.
Write down your reasons and stick them on your fridge, bathroom mirror, or another place where you will see them frequently for added motivation.
Your list can help you remember the changes you’re making, and will remind you to keep trying even if you revert to old habits.
- Find out what triggers you
Triggers help in developing a habit. The first step to overcoming habitual behaviors is identifying their triggers. Track your habit for a few days to see if any patterns emerge.
Take note of the following:
- What is the place where habitual behavior occurs?
- At what time of day is it?
- When it happens, how does it make you feel?
- Is there anyone else involved?
- Is it followed by something else?
Suppose you don’t want to stay up past midnight. You realize you tend to stay up later if you watch TV or chat with friends after dinner. Make your goal to stop watching television and turn off your phone 1 hour before you want to sleep. Once you remove these triggers, you’ll be able to break the habit.
- Get the help of a friend.
Trying to break an unwanted habit together with a friend or partner is easier. Let’s say you both want to quit smoking. It can be challenging to get rid of it on your own.
While quitting with a friend won’t solve your cravings, facing them with someone else might be more manageable. You can encourage one another during setbacks and cheer each other on during successes.
Even if you aren’t quitting together, a friend can still offer support. Tell a trusted friend about it if you want to break a habit. If they notice you slipping back into old habits, they will gently remind you to stay on track and offer encouragement, so you don’t lose sight of your goal.
- Take on a new habit instead of the old one.
Rather than simply trying to stop the unwanted behavior, you might be able to break the habit by replacing it with a new one.
If you are hungry at work, you want to avoid reaching for candy. Inability to do so can result in falling back into the habit. Instead, take dried fruit and nuts to your work and put them on your desk to have a snack option while at work.
The impulse to follow the new routine develops as you repeat the new behavior. Eventually, after seeing rewards from the new habit – more energy and less sugar crash – the urge to continue the new behavior may overcome the desire to continue the old one.
We can reap many benefits when we replace harmful habits with more positive ones, such as substance misuse. However, even “good” habits, like exercise, can become excessive. In extreme cases, even “healthy” food can have negative consequences.
- Put reminders in your calendar.
You can rethink your habit behavior when something triggers you by placing stickers, sticky notes, or other visual reminders nearby.
For example, you can place a sticky note on the refrigerator if you are trying to break your soda habit. So when you’re about to reach for a can, you’ll see the small reminder.
You can also set up reminders on your smartphone and make a note to yourself motivating you to turn off the TV, such as “Time to turn off the TV!”
- Be prepared for slip-ups.
It can be challenging to break a habit, but some habits might be easier to break than others.
The old patterns are easy to slip back into, especially when the new ones haven’t been solidified. Change is hard. You won’t lose those habits overnight because they took time to form.
You can avoid feeling guilty or discouraged by mentally preparing for slipups. Consider writing down three bullet points about your feelings while making the habit, or take a quick breather.
Don’t let your slipups define you. You might be able to stay more on track if you change your approach after being honest with yourself about what led to the setback.
- Make a small start
Are you trying to break multiple habits at once? It can be motivated to decide to change bad habits for the first time, and the image of a better self can be motivating.
Sometimes this works. In some cases, it may be easier to address both habits at once if they are related. You may be able to stop smoking and drinking at the same time if you always do them together.
However, most experts suggest starting small. Changing one habit at a time is the best way to accomplish your goal. It can also be helpful to address habits in small steps, even if they seem too small initially.
- Make your environment more conducive.
Your surroundings can have a significant impact on your behavior.
Perhaps you want to break your habit of ordering takeout every time because it’s too expensive. However, whenever you enter the kitchen, you see the to-go menus on the fridge. Consider printing out easy recipes you know you will like and sticking them out instead.
Your environment also includes the people with whom you surround yourself. Spend less time with people who contribute to your habits or don’t support your efforts to break them.
- Take your time with it.
A common myth says that making or breaking a habit takes 21 days. What is the source of that figure?
Probably from a study of plastic surgery patients. In most cases, they could adjust to their new looks within three weeks. Compared to actively trying to break an ingrained habit, that’s pretty different.
In reality, experts estimate it takes at least ten weeks (between two and three months) to break unwanted patterns. Some habits may take longer to break than others.
Breaking a habit takes time, depending on several factors.
- How long have you been doing this
- What the habit fulfills in terms of emotional, physical, or social needs
- If you have the assistance and support to break that habit
- Rewards that habit provides, either physical or emotional
It can be helpful to reevaluate your approach if you haven’t made any progress after a few weeks. If your habits are deeply ingrained or causing you distress, you might also consider getting help from a mental health professional.
It can be very beneficial to replace harmful habits, such as substance abuse, with more positive ones. Exercise, for example, can still become excessive despite being a “good” habit. It is possible to have negative effects on your health even when you eat “healthy.”