Last Updated on November 16, 2022
The only techniques that tell you how to stop bad habits
If you’re thinking about ways to stop bad habits, keep reading!
Very often, we convince ourselves that great success requires enormous steps. We think that we need to make the groundbreaking changes that everyone’s talking about. At the same time, a 1% improvement isn’t very significant—sometimes it’s not even noticeable—but it can be much more important, especially in the long run.
The progress that small changes can bring over time is enormous. There’s simple math behind it: if you improve by one percent every day for a year, you’ll be 37 times better by the end of the year.
We often don’t bother making small changes because they don’t seem to matter much at the moment. If you save some money, you’re still not a millionaire. If you go to the gym for three days in a row, you’re still not in much better shape. We make some changes, but the results are not tangible, so we return to our old habits.
It doesn’t matter how successful or unsuccessful you are at the moment. What matters is whether your habits are leading you to success. You should pay more attention to your current trajectory than to your current results.
If you are a millionaire but you spend more each month than you earn, you’re on a bad trajectory. On the other hand, if you’re broke right now but you’re saving a little money each month, you’re on your way to financial freedom, even if you’re moving slower than you’d like.
This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you click on a link and purchase something I recommend, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
We often assume that progress is linear. We hope that progress will come soon. In reality, the results of our efforts will become apparent after some time. Therefore, we may feel frustrated and powerless because weeks or months of hard work don’t show any results.
Only after a while will the true value of past efforts become apparent. This is one of the main reasons why it’s so difficult to adopt lasting habits. You make some small changes, don’t see tangible results, and decide to give up.
A few weeks ago, I was googling “How do I stop bad habits?” and came across THIS BOOK which consisted of so many useful tips. So, I decided to come up with a post that tells you the secrets I gathered from there that will help you stop bad habits. Without further ado, let’s talk about all the steps you can take to break a bad habit.
How do you break bad habits? First, decide who you want to be. And at every level: as a person, as a team, as a society, and as a nation. What do you want to stand for? What are your principles and values? Who do you want to become?
These are big questions, and many people don’t know how to answer them, but they know what results they want to achieve: get beautiful muscles, be more confident, or get a double salary.
Very good. Let’s start with that and then move back to what kind of person could achieve those results. Ask yourself: “Who is the person who could achieve my desired result?” For example, “Who is the person who could write a book?”
Obviously, this person is consistent and trustworthy. Now your focus shifts from writing a book (based on results) to being a consistent and trustworthy person (based on identity). In conclusion, habits are important because they help you become the person you want to be.
If you still have difficulty evaluating a particular habit, I love using the following question: “Does this behavior help me become the kind of person I want to be? Does this habit vote for or against my desired identity?”
Habits that secure your desired identity are usually good. Habits that conflict with your desired identity are usually bad.
Be aware of your habits
To stop bad habits, you need to be aware of them. The first step in changing bad habits is to find them. If you feel you need help, you can try the technique of pointing and naming.
Say aloud what you intend to do and what the outcome will be. If you want to eat less junk food but you notice that you’re grabbing another cookie, say out loud, “I’m going to eat this cookie, but I don’t need it. Eating makes me gain weight and harms my health.”
When you hear your bad habits out loud, the consequences seem more realistic. Saying adds weight to activity and keeps you from falling back into old habits. This method is useful even if you just want to remember a task on your to-do list.
If you say out loud, “I need to go to the post office tomorrow afternoon,” the chances that you’ll actually do so increase. The process of changing your behavior always begins with awareness. Strategies such as pointing and naming make you aware of your habits and the signals that trigger them. This in turn makes it possible to respond to these signals.
How do I stop bad habits? I use the implementation intention technique
We say to ourselves, “I’m going to eat healthier” or “I’m going to write more,” but we’re not saying when and where those habits will come true. We leave this to chance and hope that we just remember to do it or that we feel motivated at the right time.
Implementation intentions sweep away such vague promises and replace them with a concrete action plan. A lot of people think they have no motivation, but in reality, they lack clarity. It’s not always obvious when and where to act. Some people wait a lifetime for the right time to start improving something.
Once you’ve set an intention to take action, you don’t have to wait for inspiration to hit you. When the time comes to act, there’s no need to decide anything. You just have to follow the plan you set.
An easy way to apply this strategy is to complete the following sentence: “I do (what, when, where).” For example:
Meditation. “I will meditate for two minutes at five o’clock in the morning in my bedroom.”
Learning. “I will learn French for 30 minutes at eight o’clock in the evening in my bedroom.”
Use the habit attachment method
Your next step is often based on what has just been done. No behavior is separate from anything else. Each action becomes a signal that triggers the next action.
Why is this important? If you want to stop bad habits and therefore create new ones, you can use this to your advantage. One of the best ways to establish a new habit is to identify an existing one that you’re already following, and then attach a new habit to it.
This is called habit stacking. The formula is the following: “After (the current habit), I do (the new habit).” For example:
Meditation: “After making myself a cup of tea every morning, I meditate for five minutes.”
Working out: “After I take off my shoes, I put on my workout clothes.”
The key is to associate the desired behavior with something you’re already doing every day.
No matter how exactly you use this strategy, the secret to creating a successful sequence of habits is to choose the right signal to get started. Think about when the new behavior is most likely to succeed. Don’t force yourself to follow a new habit when you’re probably busy with something else.
The signal should appear at the same frequency as the desired habit. If you want to do something every day, but you attach this new habit to something that you do only on Fridays, this isn’t a good choice.
One way to find the right triggers is to look through a list of your current habits. Create a list of two columns. In the first column, write the habits you follow each day. For example:
I brush my teeth. I make a cup of tea. I work out in the morning.
In the second column, write down all the things you will certainly experience every day. For example:
The sun rises. I’m walking my dog. The sun sets.
With these two lists, you can start looking for the best place to attach a new habit. Attaching habits works best when the signal is very specific and immediately applicable. A lot of people choose signals that are too vague.
Habits like “read more” or “eat healthier” are worthwhile goals, but they don’t give us directions on how and when to act. Be precise and clear: after closing the door, after brushing your teeth, after sitting at the table.
Accuracy is important. The more strongly a new habit is associated with a particular signal, the more likely you are to notice it when it’s time to act.
Make it visible
How do you break bad habits? Let’s talk about something else first. Some experts have estimated that half of the brain’s resources are spent on vision. Given that we rely on vision more than any other mind, it’s no surprise that visual cues are the most effective motivators of our behavior. Therefore, a small change in what you see can lead to a big change in what you do.
Here are some examples of how you can reshape your environment and make the signals of your desired habits more visible. If you want to remember to take your medicine every night, put the medicine bottle right next to the tap in the bathroom. If you want to drink more water, fill a few bottles of water every morning and put them around the house.
If you want the habit to play a big role in your life, make the signal play a big role in your environment. Make sure that the best choice is the easiest one. Making a better choice is easy and natural when signals of a good habit are right in front of your eyes.
Every behavior is initiated by a signal, and we’re more likely to notice those signals that stand out. Unfortunately, our living and working environments often make it easy not to take certain steps because there’s no obvious signal to trigger certain behaviors.
It’s easy not to practice the guitar when the guitar is hidden in the closet. It’s easy not to take vitamins when they’re out of sight. When habit-triggering signals are unnoticed or hidden, they are easy to ignore. On the other hand, creating obviously visible signals can draw attention to the desired habit.
Some people spend every night reading a book on the couch. For others, the couch is where they watch TV after work and eat a bowl of ice cream.
Everyone can have their own memories of the same place. What’s the good news? You can practice linking yourself to a specific place or thing. It may be easier to change habits in a new environment.
It’s also more difficult to adopt a new habit when the background is full of competing signals. It can be difficult to fall asleep early if you’re used to watching TV in the bedroom every night. However, when you step out of your normal environment, you leave behind behavioral tendencies.
You’re not fighting the signals of the old environment, and it allows new habits to develop without distractions. If you can’t move to a whole new environment, reorganize your current one.
Create a separate room for work, sleeping, eating, etc. If your space is limited, divide it into activity zones: a chair for reading, a table for writing, and another table for eating.
One of the most practical ways to eliminate bad habits is to reduce the signals that trigger them.
If you feel like you can’t get your work done, leave the phone in another room for a few hours. If you often feel inferior, don’t look at social media pages that cause you discomfort. If you spend too much time watching TV, take the TV out of the bedroom. Instead of making it visible, you can make it invisible.
Make it attractive
Any behavior that tends to easily lead to a habit—eating junk food, playing video games, browsing through social media—is associated with an increase in dopamine levels. The same can be said for our most basic habitual behaviors, such as eating, drinking, having sex, and socializing.
When it comes to habits, the key is the following: dopamine is released not only when we experience pleasure but also when we expect it. Gambling addicts experience a dopamine release just before they bet, not after they win.
If you assume that the opportunity offers a bonus, your dopamine levels will rise a lot. And as the amount of dopamine increases, so does your motivation to act.
To break a bad habit, you need to make new habits attractive because the expectation of an enjoyable experience is what motivates you the most. Let’s talk about a strategy known as “temptation bundling.” Behavior is more likely to be attractive to you if you do some of your favorite activities at the same time.
The formula for habit stacking and temptation bundling: 1) after (the current habit) I do (the necessary habit); 2) after (the necessary habit), I do (the pleasant habit).
For example, if you want to read the news but need to express more gratitude: 1) After I’ve made myself a cup of coffee in the morning (the current habit), I’ll mention one thing I’m grateful for (the necessary habit); 2) After I’ve mentioned one thing I’m grateful for (the necessary habit), I’ll read the news (the pleasant habit).
If you want to browse Facebook, but you need to work out more: 1) After taking my phone out (the current habit), I’ll do ten push-ups (the necessary habit); 2) After doing ten push-ups (the necessary habit), I’ll browse Facebook (the pleasant habit).
Doing what you need means you can do what you want. Creating an irresistible habit is a difficult task, but this simple strategy can make almost any habit more attractive than it would otherwise be.
Evaluate your surroundings
To stop bad habits, evaluate your surroundings. Relationships have a powerful effect on our behavior. We take habits from the people around us. We copy how our parents resolve disagreements, how our friends talk to each other, and how our colleagues achieve results.
One of the most effective things you can do to create better habits is to join an environment in which your desired behavior is normal. New habits seem available when you see others following them every day.
If you’re surrounded by fit people, you’re more likely to consider exercising a normal habit. The surrounding environment shapes your assumptions about what’s considered normal. Surround yourself with people who have habits that you’d like to have.
Change your mindset
Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings, and we can use this knowledge to our advantage. How can you reprogram your brain to enjoy troublesome habits? You can make painful habits more attractive by learning to associate them with a positive experience.
Sometimes all you need is a little change of mindset. We often talk about what we have to do during the day. We have to wake up early to go to work. We have to make another sales call at work.
Now imagine that we change only one word here: we don’t have to do anything, we can do it. We can wake up early in the morning to go to work. We can make another sales call.
By simply changing one word, you change your perspective and therefore break a bad habit. You no longer see these actions as a burden, you turn them into opportunities.
Reprogram your thoughts
By thinking differently about habits in order to bring out the good, you can reprogram your mind, stop bad habits, and make new habits more attractive. For example:
Training. A lot of people consider training to be a difficult task that consumes energy and exhausts you. However, it can just as easily be seen as an opportunity to develop skills and train the body. Instead of saying, “I have to run in the morning”, say, “It’s time to increase endurance and develop speed.”
Saving money is often associated with sacrifice. But it can just as well be associated with freedom and not restriction if you understand one simple truth: if you spend less than you can, it will increase your future opportunities.
Create a motivational ritual
If you want to go a step further, you can create a motivational ritual. You just need to associate your habits with something enjoyable. Then you can use this signal whenever you need a little motivation.
This strategy can be used for almost any purpose. Let’s say you want to be happier. Find something that truly makes you happy, such as petting a dog, and then create a short routine that you follow each time before engaging in your favorite activity.
For example, you may take a deep breath three times and smile. Take three deep breaths. Smile. Pet a dog. Repeat. Finally, you begin to associate this breathing and smiling routine with a good mood. It becomes a signal for a happy mood.
Once you’ve created that routine, you can use it whenever you want to change your emotional state. Are you tense at work? Take a deep breath three times and smile. Does life make you unhappy? Take a deep breath three times and smile. Once a habit is created, the signal can trigger lust, even if it has nothing to do with the original situation.
Make it easier
Energy is valuable, and the brain is programmed to save it whenever possible. It’s in human nature to use as little effort as possible. If you have to decide between two similar choices, you naturally tend to choose the one that requires the least work.
One of the most effective ways to reduce habitual barriers is to shape your environment. However, the environment can also be optimized to make taking action easier.
The principle is to create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. The hard thing about creating better habits is that you need to find ways to reduce obstacles to good habits and increase obstacles to bad habits.
Want to draw more? Put brushes, pencils, notebooks, and drawing supplies on the table. Want to work out more? Prepare your workout clothes, sneakers, sports bag, and water bottle, and put them where you can see them. These are simple ways to turn good habits into the most convenient choices.
These principles can also be reversed. You can prepare the environment in a way that makes bad habits troublesome. If you think you’re watching too much TV, unplug it after each use. Plug it back in only when you can say out loud which program you’re going to watch. That kind of preparation creates a sufficient barrier to prevent you from aimlessly watching TV.
Use the two-minute rule to stop bad habits
How do you break bad habits if nothing else seems to work? You use the two-minute rule. Even if you know you need to start with small steps, it’s easy to start too big. When you think about changing something, the excitement inevitably takes over, and the result is that you try to do too much too quickly.
The most effective way to avoid this tendency is to have a two-minute rule that says, “If you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes.” You can see that almost every habit can be reduced to two minutes.
The idea is to make starting a habit as easy as possible. Everyone can meditate for two minutes or read one page of a book. This is a powerful strategy because once you’ve started doing the right thing, it’s much easier to keep doing it.
A new habit shouldn’t seem like a challenge. Subsequent actions can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy. Your goal is to establish a so-called “gateway habit,” which will guide you to more effective choices.
In most cases, you can figure out the gateway habit by breaking down your goal and scaling it, starting with very simple steps and ending with hard steps.
For example, running a marathon is very difficult. Running five kilometers is difficult. Walking ten thousand steps is moderately difficult. Ten minutes of walking is easy. And putting on your running shoes is very easy. Your goal may be to run a marathon, but the gateway habit is putting on your running shoes.
The fact is that the habit must first be established, and only then can it be improved. Instead of trying to form an ideal habit from the beginning, do something simpler but more consistent. First, you have to standardize it, and only then can you optimize it.
Use the commitment device method
Sometimes success doesn’t depend so much on simplifying good habits as it does on making bad ones complicated. If it’s difficult for you to follow your plans and stop bad habits, you can make them difficult by creating a commitment device.
The commitment device is a choice that you make right now that controls future actions. This is a method that will help you ensure future behavior, bind you to good habits, and prevent bad ones.
For example, you can reduce overeating by buying food in small packages. You can ask to be denied access to casinos or poker websites to prevent further gambling.
Commitment tools are useful because they allow you to take advantage of good intentions before you fall victim to temptation. The key is to change the task so that giving up a good habit is more difficult than following it.
If you feel motivated to get in shape, choose a yoga class and pay for it in advance. If you’re excited and want to start a business, immediately send an e-mail to some companies and arrange a consultation meeting.
In this case, you can only cancel the action by canceling the meeting, but this requires effort and can be costly. Commitment devices make bad habits troublesome and increase the likelihood of you doing the right thing in the future.
Make it rewarding
As I mentioned, the whole reason I decided to write this blog post is that I was googling “How do I stop bad habits?” and I stumbled across a very useful piece of information. Let’s talk about changes.
Change is easy when it is enjoyable. We’re more likely to repeat the behavior when the experience is rewarding. The human brain has evolved to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed rewards.
For the habit to last, you need a signal that the work has paid off successfully and that the effort was worth it. You’ve been to the gym a few times, but you’re not any stronger, any faster, or in any better shape—at least not significantly.
It takes months to lose a few kilograms or to get into shape, so that training becomes easier and easier. However, in the beginning, you need a reason to help you stay on track. You need immediate rewards.
One solution is to reverse this situation. You want to make prevention visible. When you’re a shopaholic, open a savings account and name it after something you want, for example, “Leather Jacket”.
Every time you want to buy something but don’t do that, transfer a certain amount of money to that account. If you didn’t buy the morning latte, transfer five euros. You skipped Netflix for a month, transfer ten euros.
It’s like creating a loyalty program for yourself. The immediate gratification that comes from seeing this money meant for a leather jacket is far superior to skipping something. You are turning not doing something into a rewarding action.
Track your habits
Habit tracking is an easy way to measure how well you follow a habit. The easiest way is to buy a calendar and cross the days off once you have followed your routine. For example, if you meditate on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, you will cross all those days.
Over time, the calendar becomes an indication of your sequence of habits. Recording your last action creates a trigger that can trigger the next one. Tracking habits generates a variety of visual signals, such as a series of Xs on a calendar.
When you look at your calendar and see your sequence, you’ll be reminded to take action again. Research has shown that people who monitor their progress, such as when trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or lower their blood pressure, are more likely to succeed than those who don’t.
Monitoring your habits will also make you honest. Most of us have a distorted view of our behavior. We think we’re doing better than we actually are. Measurement offers you a way to get over your own blindness and notice what’s really going on. If the evidence is right in front of your eyes, you’re less likely to lie to yourself.
Habit tracking is attractive. The most effective form of motivation is progress. When we get a signal that things are moving forward, we have more motivation to keep going. In this way, monitoring habits can have an addictive effect on motivation. Every little victory feeds your lust.
How to quickly restore the habit if it breaks?
No matter how consistent you are in following your habits, it’s inevitable that life will happen at some point. Perfection isn’t possible.
If you want to stop bad habits and adopt new, better ones, never skip something twice. You can skip one workout, but don’t skip two workouts in a row. You can’t be perfect, but you can avoid another mistake. You’ll never fail because of the first mistake, but because of a spiral of repeated mistakes that follows the first.
Skipping once is a mistake, but skipping twice lays the foundation for a new habit. Breaking a habit means nothing if it’s quickly restored. Too often, we fall into an all-or-nothing cycle with our habits.
The problem isn’t slipping, but the way of thinking that if you can’t do something perfectly, you shouldn’t do it at all. We don’t understand how important it is to just show up on bad or busy days. The days you lose cause you more harm than successful days benefit you.
It means a lot if you do even a little: ten squats or ten push-ups. It’s not always about what happens in training, it’s about being a person who doesn’t skip training.
It’s easy to train when you’re feeling well, but it’s very important to show up when you’re not in the mood, even if you’re doing less than expected. Going to the gym for five minutes may not improve your form, but it will establish your identity.
Make it painful
Just as we’re more likely to repeat something when its end is rewarding, we’re more likely to stay away from the experience when its end is painful. Pain is an effective teacher. If failure is painful, you’ll remember it. If failure is relatively painless, then you’ll ignore it.
The more immediate and expensive the mistake, the faster we learn from it. The risk that the customer will give bad feedback forces the plumber to do his job well. The possibility that the customer won’t come back makes the restaurant prepare good food. If the consequences are serious, you’ll learn quickly.
Laws and regulations are one example of how the government can change our habits through a social contract. As a society, we collectively agree to follow certain rules and then make them mandatory for ourselves as a group. The group has decided to act in a certain way, and if you don’t agree to follow it, you’ll be punished.
Fortunately, there is a direct way to add an immediate price to any bad habit: sign a habit contract. Just as governments use laws to hold citizens accountable for their actions, you can make it a habit to hold yourself accountable.
A habit agreement is either an oral or written agreement in which you confirm that, in order to break a bad habit, you will stick to a new habit and set a penalty that will follow if you break the agreement. You need to find one or two people who will become your contract partners and sign the contract with you.
Are you looking for ways to break a bad habit?
Success isn’t a goal to achieve or a finish line to cross. It’s a healing system with an endless tuning process. Bad habits happen again and again, not because you don’t want to change but because you have the wrong system for doing so.
Sometimes a habit is hard to remember, and you need to make it visible. Sometimes you don’t have the mood to start, and you need to make it attractive. In many cases, you may find that the habit is too difficult, and you need to make it easier. And sometimes you don’t have the strength to maintain a habit, so you have to make it rewarding.
How do YOU break bad habits? If your friend came to you and asked, “How do I stop bad habits?” what would you tell them? Let me know in the comments below!