How to Break Bad Habits 

Resolution lists at the beginning of a new year are usually all about things you want to do more of, like eating more vegetables or squeezing more exercise into our schedule. But what if instead of asking yourself to do more things, you made a push to do fewer things. What if you decided to leave your bad habits behind? It might take a little work, but there are a few easy ways to train yourself to break bad habits. And now is the perfect time to give it a try.  

Bad habits cover a lot of real estate. They can include things that are illegal – like a “lead foot” tendency to drive above the speed limit – or simply ill-mannered things you do that raise eyebrows in public, like using a lot of profanity or loudly cracking your knuckles. These bad habits could be things that bother you, or they could just be things that draw unwanted attention from other people. They run the gamut from what you eat, to what you watch on TV to what you’re doing with your body. Here’s a rundown of some things that are considered among the top bad habits in the U.S.: 

  • Biting your fingernails 
  • Picking your nose or constantly touching your face 
  • Disorganization and/or being messy 
  • Constantly reapplying lip balm 
  • Mindlessly watching reality TV shows 
  • Tapping your feet or swinging your legs while seated 
  • Smoking 
  • Loudly snapping gum 
  • Eating too much fast food

Part of a pattern. Bad habits rarely exist on their own. Instead, they typically are part of a pattern of behavior, according to an article in Psychology Today. Emotions can trigger some bad habits. For example, if someone is stressed or anxious, they may bite their fingernails more often or snack on unhealthy foods to make themselves feel better. Bad habits can also be ingrained in a routine. For some people, their after-work routine might include driving home, dropping into their favorite recliner and cracking open a beer. One beer becomes two, and they realize they’ve had more to drink than they intended.  

Here are some steps to take when you’re ready to break a bad habit: 

Define the behavior. It’s important to be very specific about the behavior you want to curb. For example, if you want to break your habit of constantly scrolling on social media sites, put some parameters on that. Do you want to cut out social media cold turkey, or do you want to designate certain times to check your favorite online sites, but keep your phone tucked away when you are with family and friends? 

ID the trigger. Now it’s time to be honest with yourself about what triggers your bad habit. Do you scroll on your phone for an hour each night or grab a handful of chocolate chip cookies an hour before bed simply because you’re bored? Are you cracking your neck repeatedly because you are tense or worried? Knowing why you are hanging onto a bad habit will help you break it. 

Replace the behavior. This is the step that takes practice. You need to replace the habit with a different behavior. For some people, this might mean swapping their bedtime snack or second glass of after-dinner wine with 20 minutes of yoga. For others, biting their fingernails can morph into filing them with an emery board and rubbing in some cuticle cream. Instead of eating in front of the TV, deliberately move your plate to the kitchen or dining room table and eat your full meal there. Using mindfulness to sub out a good habit for your bad one takes time. But keep at it, and you’ll be able to leave them behind. 

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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