How to Get Rid of a Bad Habit

by Henrik Edberg

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nerdegutt/ / CC BY 2.0

.“Bad habits are easier to abandon today than tomorrow.”
Yiddish Proverb

“Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.”
Confucius

Most of us have one or a few habits that we consider bad and we’d like to get rid of. But how do you do it?

Today I’d like to share I have a few suggestions that have helped me and people around me greatly.

Here are 8 tips that can help you to finally get rid of that bad habit once and for all.

  • Tell your friends and family. If you tell people around you that you will stop smoking or start working out three times a week then they will check up on you. And you will feel a social pressure to keep up with your promise now that it is let out into the world. I would recommend only telling people who you think will support you or be neutral. Negative people make things so much more difficult.
  • Make it painful to not go through with it. This may not be for everyone but you could consider making a promise to someone. For example, if you stray off the path to better health by having French fries or a cigarette then you will give your friend 100 or 500 dollars. The point is to add some possible pain to keep yourself in check on days when you may feel a bit tempted.
  • Listen to those who have gone where you want to go. Not to people who have no practical or real idea about what your challenge entails. It is important to get the best advice that actually works in real life. Seek it out in people around you, in the best books on the topic (check for the number of stars and read reviews on a site like amazon.com) and on blogs and forums that seem reliable.
  • What will this lead to in 5 and 10 years? See your future self vividly in your mind. Where are you going? Towards massive debt, a heart attack, serious illness and severe restrictions in your future? Do you want go to that place where it is very likely that you will wind up if you don’t make a change? Then see your future self where you have made the positive change. What positive and awesome things has it brought you in 5 years and in 10 years? See it all in your mind. And remind yourself of the positive and negative consequences by writing them down and reviewing them whenever you feel like quitting and going back to your old ways.
  • Avoid temptations. Know what usually triggers your bad habit. Places where you are likely to spend too much money. Things in your cupboard that will not help you to get healthier and you should not have at home at all. And people that drag you down and back into your old ways.
  • Replace it. If you stop doing one thing then it can leave a vacuum in your life. It’s easier to not relapse if you replace that space with a new habit. If you had chips and candy at home to snack on then have fruits and nuts to snack on when you feel the cravings. If you stopped checking social media and the internet for many hours each evening then replace that habit and space with reading more books or joining a club, sport or evening class.
  • Don’t remove more than one habit at a time. It may seem like a good idea to overhaul your life all at once. When regular life, stress and lack of energy interfere it usually leads to failure. Don’t try to be Superman or Wonder Woman. Take it easy and change one habit at a time to dramatically increase the odds of real life success.
  • Don’t make a huge deal out of it. If you think about it and talk about it all the time then it will feel like a huge deal to get rid of that habit. This will make each day much harder mentally and you may feel overwhelmed. Instead, keep it simple and realize that whatever habit you want to get rid of thousands if not millions of people have done so before. Yes, things do get tough from time to time. But there is no need to create a lot of extra drama around it and in the longer run make things more difficult than they need to be.

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{ 30 comments }

Ken Wert June 29, 2011 at 8:04 pm

This is the perennial battle, isn’t it? Great job, Henrik! The point to life is to keep growing, keep adding new good habits to our catalogue of traits, talents and abilities. Half that battle is getting rid of habits picked up along the way that don’t serve us well.

What I have found helped me overcome habits over the years is to stay busy, especially in the early phases of stomping out a self-defeating repeat-offender. Also, it is in the quiet times when no one is around that a craving or self-defeating thought starts to feel overwhelming. So get out around people too. But your point about avoiding temptations is important too when considering who to be around. If smoking is the problem, hanging out with your smoking buddies will not work.

Here’s a variation on your great idea about making it painful to slip: Give the money up front to a third party for some specified length of time with instructions to send it to a charity associated with your habit if you fall off the wagon. This way, there is no escape clause lingering in the back of your mind saying, “Well, if I do slip, I just won’t pay.”

Important post, Henrik! Keep up the awesome work you do here!

Social Natural June 29, 2011 at 8:21 pm

When I read this I think about eliminating distraction and increasing productivity. People are robbed of their productivity and time because of their usual bad habits they’re created for themselves. In a way they work synergetically.

Clint Cora June 29, 2011 at 9:14 pm

These are great suggestions. Hopefully, they will help especially those out there that want to quit smoking, drugs, drinking and other vices that could be damaging to their health. Must be so difficult with such habits to break if they spent years with these and somehow they have been engrained into their systems.

Robin Geuens June 29, 2011 at 11:57 pm

I personally think replacing it is the most important part. Without replacing the bad habit you keep going back.

I also find when you replace the bad habit with something constructive (drawing, building websites, fitness,…) You can channel the desire for the bad habit to the constructive activity and get a lot more done.

Nice article!

Mike June 30, 2011 at 1:34 am

It’s been about two years since I’ve been on your blog, but I am email subscribed as it so happens,. and so I keep up that way.

I agree about not thinking about a task being hard — it ruins so many chance at things “being” period.

Please stop by my blog when you have a chance: http://wheelchairphilosopher.blogspot.com

Kind regards,

Michael LaPenna
http://thumbtack.com/michaellapenna

Nacho Jordi June 30, 2011 at 1:45 am

Excellent advices. I find particularly important to remove anything that triggers the undesired behavior. Taking it to the extreme, I once heard of a heroin addict who went abroad and spontaneously quit the habit for a whole year… then he went back home, he met his old friends and… bang.

Regarding the second point, ‘make it painful to not go through with it’, what you propose is a punishment system (bad behavior=something bad happens to you). My personal preference is for reward systems, good behavior=you get something good. How about the guy rewarding himself with $5 every day he stays away from french fries/cigarettes?

Anyway thanks for the read

Eliran June 30, 2011 at 3:47 am

I usually use the fourth tip and I would add further that, it’s on the same principle of asking what will happen if i won’t do it when you try something new(taking new risks) that’s the way to push things from just an idea to make it done.

Courtney Jones Media June 30, 2011 at 11:29 am

Excellent writing Henrik. I appreciated this article much. This one is so helpful. I have bookmarked this site.

King Author June 30, 2011 at 9:58 pm

I love number one. By telling someone about what your doing, they keep you in line, prevent you from fumbling the ball of life and achievement. Its a great way to keep your self on track, because the last thing you want to do is disappoint someone else. So telling someone that your doing something you want to achieve, can give you the motivation you NEED to get things DONE!

Andrea June 30, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Henrik

Thank you for thi article. The waste of time and being not productive is oen of the worst habit I have. And I can assuure you it was not always like that.

With regards to make it painful, you need to be choos ethe person or friend you will give teh money carefully. I tried this with a couple of friends and then they tell me I cannot take your money. SO they need to be really commited to help you.

Great article.
Thank you
A Happier Self

marc van der Linden June 30, 2011 at 11:48 pm

If you use them all together that will get the best results.

Only the second tip would not help me.

I like The “Replace it” tip the most. It reminds me of the powerful NLP technique ‘the SWISH’ which you can use to replace things IN YOUR MIND. So you can first replace the image of chips and candy with fruit and nuts IN YOUR MIND using SWISH. After that you can replace chips and candy in the real world without any effort. It is easy to do and very very very powerful.

Thanks for sharing your tips!

Tom Mowad July 1, 2011 at 8:22 pm

The biggest ones to me are:
- avoid temptations
- replace it (when I saw the title of your post, I thought, if he doesn’t put this one down, he’s getting flamed, haha)

The social repercussions and Tony Robbins-isms don’t work so well for me. Replacing it (e.g. drinking tea rather than coffee) and avoiding temptations (e.g. don’t have candy at home or at work and you probably will never eat it) seem the best.

Have you read the book Switch: How to change things when change is hard?

Nabil Gulamani July 2, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I totally agree with the point about not getting rid of multiple habits at one time. The mind is not designed to handle many things all at once..I have tried to stop procrastination, washing dishes, and doing laundry often all together and it was stressful because I couldn’t get it done…Then I didn’t get anything done at all.

We are conditioned from childhood to act a certain way based on our up bringing so we develop certain habits that are wired in us…If we try to solve all bad habits at once, it is like moving from carrying 20 pound weights to 70 pound weights at the gym

The point you made about telling everyone about your habits….Don’t you think that it makes sense not to announce your goals because often times people will announce their goals to feel great about themselves but never take action?

Geraldine July 2, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Excellent advice Henrik as usual. I think it’s a good idea to make your intentions public, just as it is when you have a goal to accomplish. sometimes that knowledge is what keeps us moving towards our goals whatever that may be at the time.

I have a “happiness is…” contest on at my blog for July:

http://www.takeahappybreak.com/2011/07/happiness-is-contest.html

Hope that your readers will stop by to enter. Lots of fun and prizes!

Stephanie Lomond Merrill July 3, 2011 at 4:14 am

I agree with Social Natural’s comment. Eliminating distraction can help so many people overcome procrastination. Healthy habits, like taking breaks, can replace those that take us away from being more productive.

Sibyl July 3, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Henrik: This is an amazingly helpful post. I thought that every suggestion you made was right on point. I think so often we are trying to break a habit and don’t really have a great approach or know exactly what we can do. This post clarifies it all. Thanks for passing it along.

stephen July 4, 2011 at 1:31 am

Some very good points there, i always find that if i tell people what i am planning to do then it puts pressure on me to follow it through, but it is that same pressure that is usually the reason that i do not succeed!
What i do now is if i want to get rid of a bad habit is just to make a promise to myself and i do not tell anyone, that way i find i am more successful and people tend to notice at some stage themselves and they are more surprised and happy!

Sajith July 4, 2011 at 8:23 am

Thanks!! Great tips.
One important thing to keep in mind while trying to get rid of negative habits would be to understand the secondary benefits one gets out of that habit. For example, will power may help to get a person off cigarettes for a short time. But as long as the secondary gain ( like a boost in confidence when smoking..etc.) is not taken care of, the subconscious pressure will be tremendous on the person and in many cases will force the person to revert to the old (familiar) habit. The idea is to identify the secondary benefit and replace it with a new one

Melinda July 4, 2011 at 8:48 am

Only problem i have is i m unable to sleep restfully and deeply whenever i’m in tension even if it’s a tiny one.Some days i sleep so deeply and nicely and other days I mess up with my sleep.Any suggestions?

Lauren @ MRS July 5, 2011 at 4:17 am

Great tips! I myself, try to incorporate a type of rewards and punishment system when it comes to accomplishing a goal. Which is why, if anything at all, I try to stick to it more than ever.lols

Kara Lane July 6, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Your 8 tips on getting rid of a bad habit are helpful. I think the first two tips, “Tell your friends and family” and “Make it painful to not go throught with it,” are especially meaningful. I have a very recent personal experience that perfectly illustrates their usefulness.

My dad (who is in his seventies) had smoked since he was a teenager and just recently quit cold turkey after a health scare. In the July issue of our “Your Monthly Motivator” newsletter, I wrote an article called “Change Your Life the Slow and Difficult Way” and specifically bragged about my Dad quitting smoking and thanked him for the inspiration. I then sent him a copy of the newsletter to give him additional motivation not to go back to smoking, since he’d been personally and publically praised for quitting by family, friends and even total strangers! (Newsletter referenced above can be found at http://www.championsofpowerfulliving.com/)

Thanks for the great content you provide, Henrik!

Jacqueline July 6, 2011 at 11:14 pm

I found that the first rule has been the most helpful. By telling my friends and family, mainly my mother and boyfriend, I was able to gain their support and achieve my goal.

Habits can be hard to break but when they are broken it becomes an accomplishment. Share what you’ve accomplished on iachievedgreatness@blogspot.com and help others do what you’ve done.

Emily July 7, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I think making it painful NOT to do it, as well as replacing it, are the two biggies in the list.

Rob Winter July 8, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Some very interesting points. I teach people about habits and try to get them to understand what is a healthy habit is. Once thats been established I work on awareness, this is the key factor.

Moo Chen YEAN July 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm

This is most useful..!

Telling people is a good way to get our butts kicked. It will also get us some sort of feedback. Listening to others who’s been through it will get us motivated and prepare us for the journey. Tackling one habit at a time makes it look possible and simple. This last one is good piece of advice becoz sometimes when we have too many bad habits, we get so confused on where or how to start. I blog about this rather often.

Cheers!

Sean July 14, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Hi
Wonderful tips about how to get rid of bad habits. It seems something logical and obvious but if you try to make a list as you did is not easy.
I’m a compulsive person and normal habits turn into bad habits when I’m in stress, so I need to reset myself almost every month.

The tip, What will this lead to in 5 and 10 years? is the one that helps me better. I use to practice yoga and it helps me to get back to what I really need, always listen to your body…

Louise Gillespie-Smith July 14, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Great post! Telling people and replacing it with something else always works for me. I hate to go against what I say I am going to do so if I tell enough people I will have to do it!!! Thanks x

Gerry Hartigan July 15, 2011 at 3:09 am

Great stuff from everyone. Lots of great advice. A few years ago I had a friend who was addicted to watching porn and wanted to stop. I told him to tell his wife he had a problem and she was to ask him every day how he was doing. That would break him of his habit pretty quickly. He said he did, I am not sure if he was telling the truth but sharing your struggles with someone close to you is a powerful way to break any bad habit.

Anonymous August 19, 2011 at 1:18 am

thats very nice but it probably cant break my habit!

Heather July 20, 2011 at 7:46 pm

I love this blog! Another good self-help one that I’ve found that’s just starting is katypearson.com …If you love animals and lessons you can learn from them you’ll like it.

Keep up the good work! very inspiring!

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