Forming a bad habit is easy – they sneak up on you until one day, you realize you reach for your phone every 10 minutes. Breaking these ingrained behaviors takes work, but it can be done. If you implement the right strategies and stick with them, you’ll rewire your brain and break your bad habits for good.
This article will provide a step-by-step guide to identifying your bad habits, understanding what triggers them, disrupting the habit loop, creating friction, getting support, and being patient as you relearn new behaviors. You can successfully give your bad habits the boot with commitment and perseverance.
1. Identify Your Bad Habits
The first step is awareness. You can’t eliminate a bad habit until you identify it and understand your patterns. Get a notebook and set a reminder on your phone to write down every time you engage in your top bad habits for a week. This gives you concrete data to analyze.
Narrow it down to the three most harmful or frequent habits you want to tackle first. For example, let’s say you realize you check social media on your phone 72 times daily. This is impacting your productivity, so it becomes a priority habit to break.
2. Understand the Habit Loop
Habits work in a 3-step loop – the cue, routine, and reward. The cue is the trigger that initiates the craving for the habit. The routine is the actual habit you perform. The reward is the benefit you get from the habit that reinforces it.
Identify the cue and reward for your bad habits. For the social media example, the cue might be boredom or waiting in line. The reward is dopamine hits and distraction. Understanding this habit loop for each bad habit will help you disrupt it.
3. Disrupt the Habit Loop
Once you know the habit loop, you can disrupt it. Remove cues if possible to avoid the trigger. If the cue is boredom, keep a book with you as an alternate activity. If the cue is your phone within reach, put your phone in another room.
Avoid cues you can’t eliminate by creating new routines. When the social media urge hits, go for a short walk or drink water instead. The key is substituting an alternate routine to break the automatic habit.
You also need to replace the reward. What need is the bad habit meeting? Social media provides distraction and entertainment. Get your reward through other activities – reading, podcasts, calling a friend.
4. Create Friction
Increase friction to make bad habits inconvenient. Delete social media apps from your home screen and turn off notifications. Unfollow accounts that aren’t useful. Add passphrase requirements to block mindless access.
On the flip side, it reduces friction for good habits. Prepare your gym bag the night before. Keep fruits and veggies pre-cut and accessible. The easier a good habit is, the more likely it becomes routine.
5. Get Accountability and Support
Let your support system know about the habit you want to break. They can check in on your progress and cheer you on. Ask them to discourage you if they see you slip back into the bad habit.
Consider getting an accountability partner – someone working to break a habit too. Check-in with each other once a week and report how it’s going. Having someone in the same boat will motivate you.
6. Be Patient and Stick with It
New habits take time to cement. Stick with your habit-breaking tactics for at least a month before expecting lasting change. Scientists say it takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.
Expect setbacks as well. If you slip up, get back on track the next day. Don’t let one mistake snowball into giving up altogether. Stay focused on the positive change you’ll experience from breaking this habit.
Case Study: Mary Breaks Her Social Media Habit
Mary was spending over 3 hours per day aimlessly scrolling on social media apps on her phone. She realized it made her depressed and wasted too much time, so she committed to breaking this habit.
First, Mary documented how often she checked social media each day. The data showed she picked up her phone about 80 times, mostly from habit and boredom.
Mary then deleted all social media apps from her home screen. She turned off all notifications and removed the apps from her Apple Watch. This friction made accessing social media consciously deliberate rather than mindless.
Mary picked up knitting to replace her previous social media time. It became something for her hands to do instead of scrolling. She also called friends more often to get the missed social interaction.
Within a month, Mary had drastically cut down her social media habit. She freed up time for hobbies she enjoyed more. Mary still accesses social media on her computer for 30 minutes daily, but the mindless phone addiction is gone. She feels in control of her technology use instead of being controlled by it.
The first step is to identify your bad habits by tracking them for a week. Carry a small notebook or use an app to write down each time you engage in your top bad habits. This allows you to gather concrete data on the habits you need to tackle. Once you’ve tracked your habits, narrow it down to the three most frequent or harmful habits to focus on changing first.
Be patient with yourself in this process. Stick with your habit-breaking tactics for at least a month before expecting lasting change. It takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. Expect setbacks and get back on track quickly if you slip up. Stay focused on the positive change you’ll gain by breaking this damaging habit.