Habits often become so ingrained we don’t even notice we’re doing them. Whether your bad habit is a minor annoyance such as cracking your knuckles, or something more serious such as smoking, it takes conscious effort and smart planning to break the cycle. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you can’t break it on your own.
- Does the bad habit happen more often when you are stressed or nervous?
- Does it happen more often (or less often) at certain places or during certain activities?
- If you’re trying to avoid eating junk food, move any junk food in your home out of the kitchen and other snacking areas, to a more difficult-to-access location. When shopping for food, avoid walking through the aisles that contain tempting junk food, or follow a strict, healthy shopping list and don’t bring any extra cash or a credit card.
- If you’re trying to avoid checking your cell phone all the time, shut down the phone or put it in airplane mode. If that doesn’t work, turn off the cell phone and put it in a different room when you’re at home.
3Add something unpleasant to the habit. This gives you incentive to stop, and prevents you from picking up the habit unconsciously. When feasible, this can be very effective.
4Replace a bad habit with a good or neutral one. Picking up a new, more positive habit won’t make your old one disappear, but a new ritual and source of pleasure can make the old one easier to break.
- A classic example is the nail-biter that coats his nails in a nasty-tasting substance. Specialized products for this purpose are available at drugstores.
- Recovering alcoholics sometimes take medication that causes unpleasant symptoms if alcohol is drunk.
- For habits that aren’t easy to make unpleasant, put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it against the skin to cause mild pain each time you catch yourself giving in to the habit.
5Stay vigilant during tempting scenarios. If you find yourself in a situation where it’s easy to return to the habit, repeat “don’t do it, don’t do it” to yourself in your head. If you know it will happen in advance, come up with a specific plan for exactly what you will do. These conscious efforts can make it much easier to suppress unconscious habits that you would otherwise do without thinking.
- Many people find a daily exercise routine or jog becomes similarly satisfying once they’ve turned it into a habit.
- Some bad habits have a “good habit” opposite that you can focus on improving, which some people find more rewarding and easier to keep up than breaking a bad one. For instance, to avoid unhealthy food, challenge yourself to cook a healthy dinner a certain number of times per week.
6Take a mini-vacation. Breaking a habit can be much easier when you’re put in an unfamiliar environment, possibly because your brain is no longer able to go on “autopilot.” Take a weekend trip somewhere and focus on setting yourself a new routine.7Reward yourself when you don’t fall into your habit. Reward yourself for meeting your goals by taking a break for a fun activity. Associate success with positive feelings and experiences, not with disappointment that you didn’t get your fix.
- For example, if you’re quitting smoking, plan on getting up and making yourself coffee or chatting to a coworker when your coworkers take a smoking break. If a friend starts pulling out cigarettes during a conversation, think to yourself “no thank you, no thank you, no thank you” in case she offers you one.
8Meditate to help re-program your mind. When you find yourself in a situation where you are likely to fall into your bad habit, stop whatever you’re doing, and meditate for a few minutes. When you just start out it may only be a useful distraction, but in the long term you may be able to use it to calm and satisfy yourself without relying on the habit.9Call in the help of friends and family. The people you see regularly, and people who love you are a wonderful resource for breaking habits – as long as they take your efforts seriously. Ask them to help you enforce the changes you are making to your lifestyle, and to call you out when you slip back into the habit.
- You might need to try several rewards before you find one that works. Try setting an alarm for fifteen minutes from now each time you use one of these rewards. When the alarm goes off, ask yourself whether you still crave the bad habit. If so, try a different reward next time.
10Seek professional help. If your bad habit is having a serious effect on your life, get professional help. Organizations and 12-step programs exist for almost all forms of addiction. A therapist or doctor should be able to recommend one of these, or recommend someone who can provide one-on-one counseling.
- Some anti-addiction programs have the helper sign a contract explaining exactly what they are responsible for, including actions the helper may not feel comfortable doing otherwise, such as throwing away another person’s cigarettes or alcohol.
- There are many types of programs, so don’t give up if one of them doesn’t work for you. Motivational interviewing and distress-tolerance treatment are two examples of professional treatments that are not easy to replicate on your own