How to break bad habits

How to break bad habits


Somebody rightly said, “Man is a creature of habits.” Everybody develops some habits as they grow up. Some habits help lead a successful life. Some retard growth.

What you think, what you believe, and what you do each day will determine your personality. Your life takes shape from the habits you have. In short, we are a sum of our habits, and they decide whether we are:

● Happy or not happy

Successful or not

Many successful men and women have attributed their success to their habits that highlight discipline, time management, and awareness of the environment they are in.

Why do we form habits?

Life is very complicated; numerous decisions have to be taken every second, minute, or day.

Some examples:

Which shoe to wear on which leg?

How to handle chopsticks?

When to get up?

How to drive? And more…

Our amazing human brain reduces these time-consuming tasks by creating some shortcuts. Don’t we wear the correct shoe on the correct leg from childhood? People who have learned how to use chopsticks can handle it. Early risers wake from habit. And once you learn to drive, your mind is ready even for tough road conditions.

In short, the brain says if this is the condition, then do that else do another.

One point to be noted, though, is that once a habit is formed we do perform it unconsciously. We are not focusing on the task that is being performed.

This lack of focus and attention in a few tasks/routines may lead to addiction to things that we may consciously want to avoid. Lack of focus will, and addiction to unwarranted activities/things may lead you away from your goals.

To understand this, one must understand how habits work.

How habits work

Every habit has a neurological code. It follows a structure, a consistent pattern. It can be explained with the “Habit Loop Model,” expounded by Charles Duhigg in his book - The Power of Habit.

These three components form a loop.




  1. The habit begins with a cue.
  2. On a cue, you follow a routine.
  3. Once the routine is performed you get a reward. The reward is usually a feel-good factor achieved due to the habit.

Brain says if you take this cue and follow this routine, you will get a good reward.

The components and the Habit Loop are explained further as follows:

  1. Cue

The cue can be of any shape or size – it could be a small object, time of day, emotion, etc.

For example:

  • The clock strikes six, and you are up and awake
  • After drinking tea, you are cued to smoke.

These cues signal the brain to go to the next step.

  1. The routine

It is the behavior that you perform on arriving at the cue.

Example: Smoking, snacking, and waking up are some routines you follow upon getting different cues.

  1. The reward

You perceive the reward after performing the routine. The award could be in many forms. Also, different people see different rewards for their routine.

Smoking, for example, will bring in a quick spike in dopamine levels to some. For others, it is a part of socializing. For another set of people, it breaks the monotony.

Some habits are bad…

The Habit Loop becomes an urge as it becomes stronger and stronger every time you perform it.

For example, smoking is one habit that is not good for you and your health. It becomes an addiction that is difficult to overcome.

These habits may not help you become successful in life. Some habits like smoking may cause severe health issues as well. In case you want to change your current habits for better and effective ones, the following procedure can be followed:

  1. Identify the habit that you want to replace
  2. Understand the rewards, then experiment
  3. Isolate the cue

Knowing the cue is important because

  1. They appear regularly
  2. Positive routines should be undertaken. Use the same cue to change your habit.

Knowing what the reward that you get is, is also important.

Understanding what rewards you are seeking will help you realize the reason for the addiction problem.

You will discover that the same reward can be obtained from some other positive actions.

For example, if you feel relaxed when you smoke, do some other routine that gives relaxation instead. It could be eating a mouth freshener or talking to a friend.

Therefore, cue and reward cannot be changed, but routine (action) can be replaced.

Case 1 – Example, smoking a cigarette. You know it is a health hazard and needs to change.

Case 2 - Eating fried stuff daily.

First, find the cue and then understand the reason why you want it.

First case –

Cue = relaxation, boredom?

Reward = satisfaction, socializing, relieves stress.

Second case –

Cue = hunger, boredom?

Reward = hunger satisfied, socializing.

Habit loop how to change it

Here is a small example of two habits that may do more harm than good

Eating fried stuff at odd hours and smoking.

Cue Routine Reward

1) Hungry at 11 in the morning eating fried stuff Satiation

Replacing routine in this habit

1a) Hungry at 11 Eating nuts Satiation

2) Bored Smoking peaking of

dopamine levels

Replacing routine inhabit

2a) Bored Read good books peaking of

dopamine levels

Linking focus and habit together to attain success

Instead of setting goals, help yourself by practicing good habits step by step and slowly building them up to be a new you.

This is one way to link focus and your habits to be successful.

Think about what you want to be as a person. Change yourself by changing your habits accordingly.

Instead of taking a resolution - I want to reduce weight, instead say I am 55 kgs and work to attain that number from day one.

Good changes that lead to success in life take time. The route to it is to repeat to yourself - I am developing good habits.

Understanding your Habit Loop - break that bad habit at the daily routine level, and this will help you to create your new good routine.

Start with small tasks and gradually build on them.

Now see how focused are you are. You will be amazed at yourself.

How to identify bad habits

According to Wikipedia, a bad habit is a negative pattern.

Once we understand how habits are formed, we have to identify what are our good and bad habits. Good habits can be continued. It determines how focused are you in achieving your goals.

But bad habits should not be encouraged. They have the capacity to block your success. The sooner you identify your bad habits, the better. Bad habits, for example, procrastination, smoking, etc., can affect you negatively whether you are a student, an employee or an entrepreneur.

There are many ways to identify bad habits. Here is how you can do it…

Ask others

Good habits attract good comments. People will know you by them. Close relations or well-wishers will automatically point out what good habits you have and what are the habits that you need to change.

For example:

If you are a student, your mother might insist that you stop sleeping late and start getting up early.

1.) Ascertain if your habits waste your time or money or strength

Consider some examples:

Watching useless videos or engaging in social media for long hours when a school project is due

Buying fancy and in-fashion clothes when you really don’t need them

Doing others' work as an obligation, more than once, though it deviates you from your own goals all the three examples your focus deviates away from your goals. So, know that the habit you are cultivating is bad when important aspects like time, money, and strength are being wasted.

2.) Bad for your health

Some habits can impact your health adversely. Smoking, eating fast food, etc., can be classified under this category.

3.) Commonly classified bad habits

And there are some habits, other than those mentioned above, that are universally classified as bad... Here is a list that you can compare with your own. You can also understand how adversely the said bad habits affect your fortunes.

Making excuses and blaming others

Focusing on things that you can do rather than the ones you cannot is the need of the hour.

Blaming your situation, circumstances, or people for your lower performance may badly affect your performance.

Not thinking long term

This is a very bad habit practiced by many. Short-term decisions give immediate results – victory or otherwise. But it is just a small morale boost and has no long-term implications.

Life is long; if you do not want to get stuck in the same loop, you should start planning long term.

Of course to achieve that long-term goal you can divide it into small parts and allocate short deadlines for achieving that small part of the long-term goal.

For example, if you want to become a Doctor (long term goal) break the goal into short term goals as follows:

Step 1: Prepare well for your higher secondary exams and aim to score high marks in science subjects

Step 2: Write a Medical entrance test

Step 3: Once you obtain results of the above test, start applying for colleges offering a Bachelor’s degree in Medicine

Step 4: Complete your Bachelor’s and apply for a Residency or Master’s Program.

Step 5: After clearing all the above exams and getting your certificates, you can start practicing

Assuming things or second-guessing

The past is the past. Taking decisions always involves considering various factors. But once the decision is taken it is done and you are responsible for all the outcomes it results in. Yes, second-guessing decisions would only retard further progress.

Seeking validation

Seeking reassurance for each and every action is another bad habit that will cause more damage than good. People-pleasing wastes your time and energy. This same energy could have been put to some other productive use.

You may have noticed that many successful people shy away when they are recognized. The main reason behind it is that they feel their sense of purpose is more central to them than other people’s recognition of their success.

Certainly, there are times when you need to seek approval officially… but doing so for every mundane thing will only waste your time and bring down your confidence.

Self-doubt and putting yourself down

Insecurity is one bad habit that can break you. Just make a list of all your skills and talents whenever you feel low and feel good about them.

Also, treat yourself with respect. If you don’t trust yourself how can you achieve the targets you set to do in the beginning?

Negative thinking

Some of your thoughts can be negative. They are the main reasons for depression and exhaustion.

Encourage only positive thoughts that show your way forward.

Perfection intention

Nobody is perfect!

Waiting to get a perfect job done at all times only delays your work. Instead of redoing a job to achieve perfection, advance to the next level as soon as you attain the basic benchmark or standards prescribed for it.

Not reading

Reading is one of the best ways to understand our surroundings. Periodicals, newspapers, and books provide the latest happenings around. Some of these give us tips to stand tall/be successful in life. At least 30 minutes of a day is to be allotted for this activity.

People who do not have reading habits may not be up-to-date on the happenings around them. Due to this, they may not see new opportunities that could have helped them grow in stature.

Punctuality issues

Getting delayed on one or two occasions is ok. But, constantly missing deadlines affects your credibility. You may be considered disorganized and incompetent to people working with you.

Being reactive

One may be used to taking life as it comes and reacting accordingly. Myopic visions will cause problems in the long run. Just reacting to situations or being in a firefighting mode will get you nowhere.

Instead be proactive, creative with new opportunities for you to grow.

Moving further…

Once you identify the bad habits that you have, you can admit them and write them down. Try breaking the bad habits with positive reinforcement. Seek others’ help if you are finding the process difficult.

How to break bad habits

Habits are such a regular occurrence that we cannot separate them from our entity.

They are similar to eating and sleeping which occurs every day. Getting up early/getting up late, smoking or whistling, snacking at odd times, or eating healthy are some examples of habits that people have.

While some habits are good, some are considered bad. They are bad because they either retard growth/progress or have adverse effects on our health or affect our relationships.

How to stop bad habits

Changing a bad habit needs a lot of willpower, time, and planning. Sometimes even our efforts become fruitless and professional help must be sought. Here is a step-by-step process of changing a bad habit.

1.) Identify

The first step in changing a habit is to identify it in its totality first. Identify the habit(s) and admit that you need to change. Stop justifying your habit or making excuses for continuing it.

If you are a chain smoker, admit it first. Then understand why you have to push it out of your system.

If you are not punctual, learn how to be so.

2.) Write down something about the bad habit

It is always good to write down a note about your bad habits. This will not only help you plan on how to get rid of it, but it will serve as a reminder not to fall back on your old ways.

The following points should be mentioned in the bad habit note…

How often do you indulge in the habit?

Let us take the smoking habit – write down how often you smoke in a day.

When it occurs – at certain places, times, etc.

Write when and where you smoke.

● Understand the pattern of your bad habit

Write down what induces you to smoke

● The reason for the habit

Write down what comfort do you achieve in smoking? Is it a break from boredom, or excuse to make new friends, or an additive to gain inspiration???

3.) Start planning and implementing how to get rid of the habit

Habits cannot be changed overnight. This is because habits are imprinted in our neural paths and occur randomly even without our voluntary consent at times. Great efforts and planning are required to undo a bad habit and develop a good habit in its place.

This is the final step, here is how you can do it...

(I) Make a realistic goal

Choose which habit you want to change

Select a new and realistic goal you want to achieve to do away with your bad habit

Give it an appropriate time

Begin in a small way and improve

(II) Choose a replacement habit

If the habit is not severe or addictive, then try breathing exercises when it is triggered

Replace your bad habit with a better one. For example - the time you use for social media can be used in reading an e-newspaper or a book

Take clues from the Habit loop expounded by Charles Duhigg

There are three components in a Habit loop

Cue – the trigger that starts the Habit loop

Routine – the action you take when the cue appears

Reward – the feel-good factor that is achieved after the routine mentioned above

While it is felt that the cue and reward are irreplaceable, one can change the routine. Change in routine will replace your habit with a better one.

Here is an example…


Cue – meeting friends

Routine - smoking

Reward - socializing

Replace it with

Cue – meeting friends

Routine – enjoying soft drinks or a light healthy snack

Reward - socializing

(III) Avoid temptations/triggers

Another method would be avoiding temptations or triggers of the habit at all times possible.

1. Stop visiting the place that reminds you of the bad habit

If your habit is eating junk food then put all the junk in a place that is difficult to access

If cell phone notifications are your bane then shut out your phone until you really need it

2. Give yourself incentives/punishment to avoid that temptation

If you are an alcoholic, take some medicine that causes some unpleasant symptoms whenever you drink alcohol

If you succeed in seeing notifications on your phone for one hour treat yourself to a sweet treat

4.) Stay alert from relapse

Finally, stay alert from relapse.

Sometimes scenarios occur when you will be tempted to get back to your bad habit. Beware of such occasions and be extra careful to not fall back on your bad ways.

Other things you can do to break the bad habit are:

1. Take a vacation. Be away from your familiar localities for focusing on your new routines. Go on a vacation to another city or locality and concentrate on new things

2. Yoga and meditation are some methods that can help you break bad habits

3. Train your brain on other things that can replace your habit. While a habit is performed automatically, if you train your brain and focus on it then you can change your bad habits

4. Change in routine

Take a new bus route

Start a new exercise regime

Go for walks

5.) Visualize the aftermath of changing your habit

Visualize in your mind how the situation would be once you get rid of the bad habit.

If your bane is fast food, imagine how your health will improve once you stop eating it

Think of the advantages you will enjoy once you start exercising

Visualization helps in motivating you further to give up your bad habit.

6.) No-no to negative thinking

Keep yourself in a positive change of mind when you are trying to change a habit.

Example: If you want to stop your snacking habit, try telling your brain you can do it. Do not get discouraged if you are not able to change your habit immediately. Give yourself time and some patience and the reward will be yours to see.

7.) Family/friends support

Set up a roadblock to a bad habit with due help of friends/family.

Your well-wishers can surely help you, whichever way you feel comfortable. They can either stop you when you are induced to perform the habit routine or give gentle reminders to give it up totally.

8.) Professional help

Some habits become addictive. It is very difficult to change those bad habits. For example, an alcoholic cannot get rid of his habit easily.

In such extreme cases, it is wise to seek professional help. Reach out to a doctor or therapist at the earliest. Help rendered by these professionals can be in the form of motivation or medication.

Some experts feel at least two months are needed to change a habit.

It may be a long time. But it is today that you should start to make your tomorrow better by changing all the bad habits you have into good and success-creating new habits.

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