7 strategies for breaking a bad habit

A bad habit can be anything from chain-smoking to obsessively watching videos of cats on YouTube. Habits aren’t easy to break, especially if you find them enjoyable! But it is possible. Check out these seven strategies to help you on your way.

This can help if:

  • you want to change your behaviour

  • you have a bad habit you want to kick

  • you want to turn over a new leaf.

Boy resting chin on hand

1. Treat yo’self

Harness the power of positive reinforcement to build on your gains. After making small changes towards breaking your habit, reward yourself! Use the money, time or energy you’ve saved from opting out of your bad habit to buy or do something nice for yourself. These regular ‘rewards’ will inspire you to keep at it.

2. Get motivated

To successfully break a habit, it’s important to identify why you want to change. Write down your reasons. What are the upsides of changing? What are the downsides of continuing the behaviour? Keep this list with you in case you need to look at it for motivation.

3. Analyse the habit

When, where, why and how do you engage in your habit? How often do you do it? It’s crucial to understand your behaviour if you want to change it. Use a journal to monitor your habit for a week or a month by taking notes. Look for any patterns. Awareness provides the foundation for change.

4. Build a plan and plot your progress

Once you’ve identified the problem, focus on the solution. What does success look like and how will you get there? Going cold turkey might work for some, but starting small and ticking off bigger and bigger achievements along the way may be a safer approach. No matter what your solution is, set a date as a goal for when you want to be completely free of your habit. Give yourself milestones along the way and track your progress as you go.

5. Replace the behaviour

Research has shown that replacing unwanted behaviours with other activities is an effective way to break a bad habit. Clench your fists instead of biting your nails, or go for a short run rather than smoke a cigarette. Try to understand what needs your bad habit satisfied and then meet those needs with a healthier activity.

6. Don’t go it alone

It’ll be much easier to break a bad habit if you have the help of a support network. Set a challenge with a friend to break a habit together. Share your plan with others and ask them not to engage in the habit around you. Come to the ReachOut Forums to hear from others who are trying to change. Another option is to seek professional help.

7. Persevere

Commit to breaking your habit over the long term and expect some slip-ups. Lapses are perfectly normal when trying to change behaviour. Instead of using these setbacks as an excuse to give up, view them as a chance to understand what went wrong and how to do things differently in the future.

What can I do now?

  • Chat about breaking habits with a supportive bunch of peeps on the ReachOut Forums.

  • Brainstorm a 'replacement' strategy and decide what you'll replace your bad habit with.

  • Use the ReachOut NextStep tool to find the best support options for you.