If you set some significant goals this year, you might be feeling the challenge of sticking with them already. That’s especially true if you have a BAD HABIT holding you back.
Deeply ingrained habits are hard to break—but not impossible. There are a few steps you can take to break that bad habit, which I will explain now. Fasten your seat belts! This could change your life.
Step 1. Admit the Challenge
Half the power of habits is our LACK OF AWARENESS. When we do become aware of a habit working against us, we have to ADMIT it’s inhibiting our progress. It doesn’t have to be life-threatening to be serious. It simply has to be standing in the way of your goals.
Most of us don’t take the time to sit still and THINK about such things. While I highly recommend some daily quiet time to focus your mind and take a regular sober self-assessment, start with remembering WHY you set the goal in the first place. Then think about what is holding you back. Write it down. Say this to yourself right now, with as much conviction as you can muster: “I have a problem with [fill in the blank].”
The good news is that whatever the impediment, you’re not alone. Other people have faced it, too. And from their success you can take courage that you can overcome it as well. All it takes is determination, a plan, and a trustworthy friend.
Step 2. Understand How Habits Work
Once the bad habit is identified, we need to understand how it works in order to break its power over us. A habit has three components:
The TRIGGER. This is often something we see with our eyes. But it can involve the rest of our senses as well.
The BEHAVIOR. Normally, we think of the behavior as the habit itself: overeating, procrastination, whatever. But it’s only our response to the trigger.
The REWARD. More than the physical sensation we experience, this is the dopamine hit the behavior produces.
The trick is that we begin experiencing the reward at the point of the trigger—even before we act. Your brain gives you a dopamine hit every time your eyes encounter something you associate with the reward. It’s like a feel-good credit card. The fun comes now; the bill comes later.
This where we get tripped up. Because it’s our human nature to look at, think about, and pay attention to is whatever we’ve done in the past that was immediately rewarded, we have to practice delayed gratification. Believe in your heart that the future reward is far greater than the instant & temporary reward.
So think about the habit you want to break. Can you identify the trigger? This is where the sober self-assessment comes in handy. Everybody struggles with a warped view of themselves. Surprised? Most of us think too low of ourselves (I’m not good enough, not qualified, not worthy, etc.) Newsflash: YOU ARE A MASTERPIECE!
You were made for more than the bad habits and their empty and temporary rewards. An accurate view of yourself gives you the key to discovering your life purpose which will go a long way to helping you achieve your goals. Take encouragement from this verse from my favorite book: Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
You’ve admitted you have a bad habit you want to change, you understand a bit more how habits work and hopefully have identified the trigger, and hopefully you’ve taken a sober self-assessment. Next let’s address MINDSET in clarifying what you want (the goal or good habit).
Step 3. Flip the Switch
Have you ever tried really hard to NOT think about the thing you don’t want to (the trigger to the bad habit) only to find you are even MORE drawn to it? Yeah, me too. It’s normal. Thinking about defeating the bad habit will often send you right into the thing you are trying to avoid. The ‘trick’ is to REPLACE the thoughts with something else. This takes some practice, but it works.
It’s creating a new association for the trigger. You likely can’t make the trigger go away, so you have to relate the trigger to something positive instead. For example, say my bad habit is mindless eating. I always seem to be eating when I watch TV. Instead of not watching TV, I need to recognize that doing so is a trigger for me to eat snacks. So instead I need to consciously think of a new association when watching TV. Maybe I’ll chew gum, or drink water instead. Maybe I can do push-ups during commercials! That might also help minimize TV time!
Give your brain a new focus. In my example, the behavior was to eat snacks, but now you chew gum or drink water. Similar behavior, but much healthier. The point is to find something you can DO to change your focus to something different and better.
Another key to the mindset part of breaking bad habits is addressing your WHY. I talk/ write about this often because it is so powerful and effective to personal achievement. You need to have a personal, compelling reason(s) WHY you want to change. It’s not enough to say you want to quit smoking because it is bad for you. Why is it bad for YOU? What might quitting mean to your future self? How might quitting smoking affect your family? What will you do with the money you save from not buying smokes? Ask yourself these types of questions until you find the reason that truly motivates you to do this hard thing of breaking the bad habit. Go to this reason when you struggle, when you are tempted, when it gets really hard to resist. Your WHY will help keep you motivated.
If you’ve made it with me this far, I have good news. This is the home stretch. Just a couple more points to digest and you are on your way to slaying your bad habits for good!
Let me be the first to agree with you that it is EASY to read (and write) about breaking bad habits. It’s really hard to actually DO it. I know. I share this info to encourage you, but also for my own good. I’m preaching to myself here.
By now you understand more about bad habits than you probably wanted, and maybe you’ve had some success in your journey to kick it already – which is awesome!
But how do you keep up the good work over the long term? Thanks for asking.
I have a couple ideas:
Track Your Progress. Not surprisingly, there are several free apps you can get to help you trade your bad habits for good ones. I prefer a journal and/ or written checklist or calendar to help me stay the course. Either way, it’s important to have a way to record your progress. It helps hold you accountable, serves as a reminder, and gives you a record of your journey so you can look back on it.
Tell a friend. This is REALLY important. Yep, it might be uncomfortable to share what you are doing, but a couple things happen when you get an accountability partner. One, it confirms to you that you are serious about replacing a bad habit. And two, you have a trusted friend who cares about you and will be there for you when times get tough. It’s really hard to replace bad habits all alone. Get someone to help you be accountable and maybe invite them to do it with you.
Never give up. Transformation won’t happen overnight. You must persevere through hard times. Keep an eye on the prize. Remember your WHY and how great it will be to have freedom from the “old you” or the bad habit that has kept you down for so long. When you hit a setback in your journey, remember that you don’t have to start all over. Just get back on track from where you left off. You can do it!
Humans are bent toward addiction, to habit, routine, call it what you want. The key is to make sure that you are “addicted” to good habits – the ones that lead to the results you want and help you to take care of what is really important to you.
If this information is helpful or encouraging to you, would you please leave a comment? Feedback helps me to know I’m connecting with you and providing value to your life.
8 thoughts on “How To Break A Bad Habit”
This is a really good one going into the New Year. It definitely made me think outside the box about a particular habit that I have been wanting to kick for a while. Great inspiration.
Thanks for the reply Jenn. I can relate, as I’ve been working through breaking a bad habit as well. It is a process that takes time. Give yourself some grace and press on!
Thanks for this, Chad. I haven’t given much thought to identifying “triggers”, but I certainly will now. As you said, it’s easier to focus on the unhealthy behaviors.
You’re welcome Jamie. Yep, the triggers is a newer concept for me as well. It sure does help though!