7 Ways to Break Bad Habits (And Build Good Habits)

Breaking old habits and forming new ones can be extremely difficult. We’ve all made promises to ourselves that we’ll drink more water, exercise more frequently, or study more effectively, but it never seems to materialize. It can be difficult to maintain routines for a long time if you don’t see immediate results. Having the discipline to accomplish the things that you genuinely want to do is what habits are all about. If you’re having trouble staying disciplined, here are some suggestions to help you form new habits and keep to them, as well as break bad habits.

Our Tips to Break Bad Habits

Here’s our list of the best ways to break bad habits and build new ones:

Start with Small and Realistic Goals
Know Yourself
Link habits together 
Make SMART goals
Allow yourself to be imperfect
Skip a habit once but never twice
Use the Help of Others

Start with Small and Realistic Goals

Whenever you’re trying to change a habit it’s always best to start with something small. If your goal is to go to the gym five days a week, then it will be very difficult for you to suddenly make that big change from zero days to five. It’s really important to start small with the habits you want to implement into your life so you can actually get gradual progress and get going. If you want to go to the gym five times a week and you’re currently not going at all, then it makes sense to start with once or twice a week and work your way up from there.

Similarly, it’s very easy to see a huge mountain of a task that you need to climb and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and get put off after a day or two. Instead, break down that mountain of a task into a bunch of smaller hills; focus on what’s directly in front of you and try to jump over the first hurdle before you worry about the next.

Know Yourself

When trying to change your habits you have to first understand your current habits and why they’re occurring. If you already know all of your usual excuses, then you can figure out good ways to address them. Some of the most common things that people tell themselves when trying to break bad habits are: I have to do this thing because I can’t help myself, I don’t have the time, I’ll do it later, (which of course never comes), or the absolute classic: I have to do this thing because I can’t help myself, I don’t have the time, I’m just not motivated right now. Spoiler alert: it’s not about motivation. Motivation is a myth; it’s all about discipline.

If you can have an immediate response to your own excuses for not doing something, then you’re already way ahead of the game. For example, if you often tell yourself that you’re not motivated to study or do x or y activity, then instead you can focus on changing your thought patterns into thinking about discipline, thinking about creating consistent patterns over time, and small gains every day that lead to overall success and achievement.

Link Habits Together

A great technique that’s discussed in James Clear’s book called Atomic Habits is to anchor a new habit to an existing one. For example, if you want to go for a run, you can place your toothbrush on top of your workout clothes in the bathroom. That way next time you brush your teeth in the morning your workout clothes are literally right there. You can’t ignore them and so those two habits become linked together.

Make SMART Goals

Whenever you’re setting goals for yourself make sure that they are SMART. SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

For example, if your goal is to get a grade start specific and focus on one test. Next, figure out how much time you are going to spend each day and track how much time you spend studying on Anki or past papers. Your goal should be attainable so that you don’t set yourself up to fail. Make sure that you’re being realistic about the goals that you’re setting. Don’t study three times a day if you’re only preparing for a formative quiz.

It’s crucial for the goal to be relevant to some life change that you want to make and you make it personal to you. Also, make sure that you set clear goals about when you want to have achieved your outcome. If you’re not clear with yourself about all of these things, then chances are you’ll find ways around your goals and you’ll cheat yourself out of your own success.

Allow Yourself to be Imperfect

The truth is it’s really tough to change your habits. You can’t expect all of your attempts to change or form habits to be successful. Everyone will fail at forming habits, but the point is that it’s all right to try, even with all of these tips in place, and fail. That’s what having a growth mindset is all about. You have to be ready to slightly change your path and technique and try again. It’s okay to not get things right the very first time.

It’s all about trying your best, whatever your best is, and having the expectation that you might fail. It might take a few tries to get this thing done. It’s a lot easier to go into habit breaking or making with a realistic expectation as opposed to one that’s unrealistic like being able to get everything right first try.

If you have unrealistic standards, then this might lead to you giving up more easily or earlier on than the required amount of effort or time that it takes to make or break a habit. Try not to give up, have realistic expectations, and keep on trying. A big part of changing your habits is changing your thought patterns around a new behaviour you want to start doing in your life.

Skip a Habit Once but Never Twice

A great idea is to never skip the thing you’re trying to accomplish for more than two days in a row. For example, if you want to walk for 20 minutes every day as your new habit and miss it for one day, that’s fine, but missing it for two days in a row is not. Once you miss that walk for the second day, it’s all too easy to tell yourself to miss the third day, then a week, then a month, and before you know it, you’ve given up trying to build this habit.

Giving yourself that free day off of being able to miss something lifts a lot of weight off of your shoulders and it means that you can have days where life gets in the way and you’re unable to continue working on your habit and that’s fine but keeping it to one day instead of two helps to keep you accountable and ensures that you keep up the habit for the long term.

Use the Help of Others

Changing your habits is not something that you have to do alone. It works even better if you both are trying to change the same habit, such as getting a gym buddy to help motivate you to go to the gym more. Having someone to support your successes and encourage you through setbacks can greatly help you develop habits.

Even if your friend isn’t trying to change the same habit as you they can still offer support. If you tell them about your goals they can work to encourage you in times of doubt and remind you of your goal if they notice you slipping back into old habits.

Many of us choose to run at the sight of feedback, it can sometimes be painful and hurtful. But the truth is receiving feedback is good for you, it helps you grow. Everyone has blind spots; nobody has a complete picture of everything.

Breaking Bad Habits Takes Time

Remember that it can be tough and you’re not alone and you don’t have to get everything right on the first try. A lot of us struggle with making or breaking habits but we have to try and at least set ourselves up for success in a great way to get off on the right foot.

Leave a Reply