We all have bad habits we’d rather not, but it is somehow more comforting to keep on doing them than it is to change. Maybe you spend more time on social media than you should, or let online gaming keep you from doing more important tasks. Perhaps your habit threatens your health like smoking or overindulging on chocolate. Whatever bad habit you are trying to change, you haven’t yet found the right formula to break its hold over you.


We have the final pieces of the puzzle for breaking bad habits. Use these seven tips from researchers who have studied the power bad habits can have over us and show us how we can free ourselves from their shackles.


Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself


habits spelled out on wooden cubesHumans are creatures of habit. After all, highly developed habits helped humans survive the perils of ancient times. In modern life, habits still help us survive a busy day without having to overthink every decision we need to make. If it weren’t this way, we would all be nervous, mentally exhausted wrecks by the end of the week.


Habits rule just about every aspect of our lives; from the morning bathroom ritual and the drive to work to your routine at the office that ensures maximum productivity. From the moment you return home, your habits keep you on autopilot for most of the evening, such as putting your shoes in their place and your clothes in the wash basket. These are all excellent habits that free up thought processes for thinking about more meaningful and creative tasks.


Unfortunately, the human brain is incapable of sorting habits into good and bad, so once a bad one settles in and becomes automatic, it can be challenging to pry it out.


Find the Root of The Habit


All habits have a reason for existing or a function. Brushing your teeth prevents cavities and trips to the dentist and checking your inbox in the morning helps you keep your schedule on track. Unfortunately, bad habits develop for the same reason.


Overeating may be a coping mechanism you do when things aren’t going great. Spending too much time on social media may be a way to avoid unpleasant chores, smoking could be an opportunity for a timeout, and drinking may be the only way you know how to socialize. If you want to rid yourself of the habit, the first step is knowing what function it performs in your life.


Confront the Habit


Some habits are straightforward and easy to confront. For instance, a raid on the vending machine to satisfy your afternoon hunger pangs is likely telling you that you need to spend 15 minutes eating a healthy lunch. However, if your time on social media is a way to avoid a fight with your partner, then facing the idea that your relationship has become dysfunctional is harder to bear.


Regardless of how you feel about the habit, you will not feel empowered enough to break it unless you come up with a solution to its function. There needs to be something positive to fill the void, such as eating a healthy lunch instead of filling up on salty snacks. Positive solutions are sometimes painful, such as when you force yourself to confront your feelings and seek couple’s counseling with your partner, rather than hide behind the social media feed on your phone or lose yourself to drink or weed.


Write Down Your Bad Habits


Writing down your bad habits makes them feel more real, and a written down promise, even one made to yourself, is harder to break. Research has revealed that the simple act of committing a goal to paper and keeping it in sight, or reading it several times a day, helps to keep people moving forward. Form a habit of writing down your goals and reading them a few times a day – stick them on the bathroom mirror or the fridge so you can’t forget.


Make Yourself Accountable


When you make yourself accountable to others, it can provide a great deal of incentive for you to follow through with the changes you want to make. Sponsors and counselors can provide excellent, non-judgmental support and professional guidance for dealing with your bad habits. They will also help you find positive, healthy replacements to fill the voids.


Take Your Time


feet running down a nature pathThe widespread consensus for a bad habit to be replaced by a more positive one is 28 days. Don’t set your alarm by it because this theory is more than likely complete nonsense. Habits are hard to break and confining yourself to a time-limit like this may be setting yourself up for failure.


Instead, keep in mind that breaking a bad habit will take as long as it takes. A more reasonable timeframe to substitute bad behaviors with good ones is 3-months. Naturally, how long it will take will significantly depend on the individual and their circumstances – some may take longer, while others will be able to adapt quickly.


Allow for Setbacks


None of us are perfect, and bad habits can have a powerful grip, so the occasional setback is inevitable, but that is no reason to give up. You should view every slip up as a learning experience because it will highlight the stressors in your life that push you off the path. Once you know what to avoid, it will be easier to change your habits.


For instance, smokers can have a variety of cues that prompt them to light up, and one powerful one is location. The typical smoke break at work is usually in the same area. Avoid those places, especially the ones where smokers regularly congregate, and you can increase your chances of successfully eliminating the habit.

Getting counseling support can go a long way in helping you to overcome bad habits and create healthy new ones. Click here to learn more: Habits and Addictions