A 3-Step Plan for Breaking Bad Habits

by | Updated: December 4th, 2016 | Read time: 4 minutes


Many of us have bad habits. These behaviors take up energy, and they tend to assert themselves in our lives — often as a way to cope with stress — even though they may provide no real satisfaction or benefits. Some bad habits can compromise health, while others are just plain unattractive. Some can feel like a perpetual drain on your energy. The good news is that there are healthy ways to break bad habits. You have the power to shift your thoughts, change your behavior and replace bad habits with positive actions.

How to Break Bad Habits in 3 Easy Steps

If your bad habit is triggered by stress, search for a new positive behavior that can replace it. Many people pick up bad habits because they feel overwhelmed, and their bad habits may give them a sense of being more centered, or focused. Both good and bad habits are often ways for a person to self-regulate — to go from the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight-or-flight” response (a feeling like you’re running from a tiger), to the parasympathetic nervous system’s relaxed, easy-going state (for example, the calm bliss you can feel after a massage). Let’s look at some step-by-step ways that you can turn bad habits into positive, self-esteeming ones.

  1. Self-Inspection: First, observe yourself and write down your habits, both good and bad. Ask yourself what triggers them: what causes each habit to happen, and when does it occur? If you have good habits, like working out every day, how did this come about? Why do you keep doing this positive behavior? What are the gains? Next, explore how you feel about your bad habits: are you ashamed of them, and do you hide them from others? Do you feel overwhelmed or angry about them? How does each bad habit detract from the quality of your life -for example, from your energy, self-esteem, or health? What exactly is it that makes you consider it to be a “bad” habit?
  1. Make a List: Once you’ve observed and reflected on both your good and bad habits, create a wish list of what you’d like to change about yourself. Which bad habits would you like to replace with the kinds of positive experiences and feelings that are generated by your good habits? Prioritize your list by marking which habits you’d like to replace, from the most important to the least important.
  1. Create a Plan to Replace Bad Habits with Good Ones:Now that you’ve closely examined your good and bad habits, and made a list of the habits you’d most like to change, you’re ready to create a strategy to help you make positive changes. You can often find solutions to bad habits by looking at why you have them and finding better substitutes. Here are a few tips for turning some notorious bad habits into good ones:

Consuming Too Much Caffeine? If you tend to drink excessive caffeine in the morning just to get going, try making a habit of working out in the morning instead. Your craving for caffeine will most likely fade away, because working out can achieve the same results – and also provide you with extra health dividends that caffeine never will. You’ll probably find that you not only have more energy throughout the day, but that your energy becomes much more steady than it was when you relied on caffeine. (But note that you may want to wean yourself off caffeine gradually, rather than stopping it all at once. Sudden cessation of caffeine, in those addicted to it, can commonly cause withdrawal headaches.)

Creating Paper Clutter? If you habitually clutter up your living space with pieces of paper (unpaid bills, mail, to-do lists, etc.), consider clearing up this habit once and for all by following the “One Touch Rule.” This means that you allow yourself to touch each piece of paper only once, and you’re obligated to find the right out-of-sight place for it in that moment. Instead of just dropping it into the ever-growing pile, for instance, you have to put it into either a drawer where it belongs, or a file (even if that means you have to create a new file for it), or the garbage. You can create a “read later” file, but this should be cleared out once a week in order to keep your life free of paper clutter. With the One Touch Rule, you can instantly turn a bad habit into a good one.

Biting Nails? If you’re a nail biter, consider putting nail polish on your nails. There are some great polishes free of formaldehyde and toluene, and they’re available in a wide variety of colors. Nail polish can make it difficult to continue biting and peeling your fingernails. As your bad habit wanes, make a point to pick up a new positive habit, like crocheting or knitting, that will keep your fingers occupied in a healthy way when you feel the urge to bite your nails. If your nail-biting habit was formed to relieve stress, these new habits are likely to do so just as effectively – or more effectively – and at the same time give you the satisfaction of doing something productive and creative.

Picking Blemishes? This unattractive habit can lead to a vicious cycle: it could make the skin on your face more irritated and inflamed, and the more this happens, the more you may be apt to continue the habit. To beat this habit, use high-quality skin care products on your face to prevent blemishes. Make a new habit of using a good cleanser, toner and vitamin C serum on a daily basis. If your bad habit was partly due to stress, try treating yourself to facials from a professional esthetician. These treatments can be extraordinarily restful, help you cope with stress, and give you another good habit – as well as a glowing complexion.