Three Steps to Breaking Your Worst Habits

We all have habits that, ideally, we’d like to leave in the past. I personally can’t go for ten minutes without checking my phone (it drives my husband crazy). Things like nail-biting, zit-popping, chewing with one’s mouth open, slouching, cursing, smoking, etc. are all habits that people try and fail to break on a regular basis. Why is this? Why is it so hard to break a habit, especially when we know it’s a bad one?

Experts believe that one of the reasons why it’s so tough is because these behaviors become learned for us over time. They become part of our daily lives and routines and, oftentimes, we don’t even realize when we do them. It takes a certain amount of willpower and determination to change a habitual behavior, but it’s not impossible. Here are a few steps to hack through those bad habits:

Step #1: Pay attention.

In order to break yourself of a bad habit, it’s important that you are aware of it when you’re participating in it. Try to become hyper-aware of when you’re engaging in a bad habit, and keep some sort of record. Write down the time, where you are, and what you’re doing. That way, you can start to notice any commonalities and potential triggers.

Step #2: Plan ahead.

While it’s sort of second nature for us to minimize the severity of certain situations, when attempting to break a bad habit, it’s best to be as realistic as possible. Remind yourself that it is going to be hard, that you’ll probably fail at least a couple of times, and that you’re going to feel discouraged along the way. Plan for the hardest of times so that when you do experience them, they don’t catch you off guard and then, subsequently, throw you off track from your goal.

Step #3: Be helpful to yourself.

Here’s a hint: keeping a pack of cigarettes in your sock drawer for “emergencies” is not going to make it any easier to quit. The same goes for eating well- don’t make it harder on yourself by having a stash of cookies buried in your pantry. The bottom line is that there isn’t any cheating when it comes to breaking a bad habit. The end goal is still the same, despite how easy or difficult you make it for yourself. Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, author of Smart Change: Five Tools to Create Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others, says, “if you don't want to check your cell phone that often, shut it off. If you don't want to use it while you're driving, put it in the glove compartment. It seems simple, but it's incredibly important. The more you manage your environment, the more likely you are to succeed. It's not cheating."

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