Updated: Oct 18
We all have our bad habits and we also know that they don’t serve us in a positive way. Are you struggling with bad habits that are standing in your way of having a more positive lifestyle? And, do you battle to break them whenever you decide it’s time to replace them with better habits that do serve you? You’re not alone on this journey!
Bad habits are soul-destroying! They interfere with your personal growth and development, often stopping you in your tracks before you even get started! Bad habits can be destructive mentally, emotionally, and physically. And, they zap your energy levels, leaving you feeling defeated and worn out by the end of each day.
Replacing bad habits with those that serve you is possible when you understand what drives the negative behavior in the first place. And, once you know what to expect you can start implementing better habits. Read on to find out more about bad habits and where they come from PLUS seven ways to replace them with better ones.
Where Do Bad Habits Come From?
It’s all fine and well knowing that certain habits are bad for you. Smokers are aware that smoking is bad for them (even if they vehemently deny this when confronted) but the habit is so firmly entrenched that it turns into an addiction.
A lot of bad habits create addictive behavior which is why they’re so difficult to break. But, where do your bad habits come from?
Bad habits are often caused by stress and anxiety. They can also come about because of boredom. How many times have you binge-watched Netflix to avoid facing a stressful or boring situation? Or, started picking at your fingers when going through a stressful event?
People who are bored at the office or at home, google the Internet for hours simply to fill up their time and avoid going crazy out of their minds.
But, bad habits are also formed because of deeper issues. Your negative belief system is one of the causes of driving bad habits. Negative thoughts are often fear-based which in turn, results in high levels of anxiety. Nail-biting anyone?
Bad habits come about as a reaction to a stimulus such as fear as a way of coping with it.
Habits come about through repetition. This applies to both bad and good habits. Neural pathways are established in your brain every time you do something, over and over again. The more you do something, the more solid and established your neural pathway becomes.
Why Is It Not Easy to Break Bad Habits?
While your brain is reprogrammable, which is also known as neuroplasticity, it’s not easy to break bad habits. It requires perseverance and commitment while rewiring your brain to forge new pathways for better habits to take hold. It takes time and this is where a lot of people fall.
According to Sally-Ann Creed, it takes up to 21 days to install a new neural pathway. And, another 42 days to ensure it’s solid and long-lasting! For some people, 63 days may seem like a lifetime when trying to shift a bad habit and replace it with one that's positive.
Another reason why it’s so hard to break a bad habit is that habits are routine and automatic. Automatic behavior means you don’t have to think consciously about what you’re doing. Whether the activity is good or bad, when you don’t have to think about it, it's so much easier just to do it, especially when you’re occupied with other tasks.
Bad habits also trigger the “pleasurable” part of your brain even if it results in the wrong behavior. When your brain gets a message that a certain activity feels good, it will “reward” you. This is often the challenge with people who eat too much junk food for the comfort feeling it gives them, however momentarily.
The same goes for smoking, scrolling social media endlessly, and gambling.
Maintaining self-control and willpower is another reason why bad habits often win the day. Keeping your resolve up is exhausting work! But, if you learn to practice self-control in small steps, you’ll slowly strengthen the “muscle” required to keep your willpower going.
Watch this Ted Talk as psychologist Judson Brewer talks about habit development.
7 Ways to Replace Bad Habits With Good Ones
By now, you may be thinking you’re stuck with your bad habits for good. And, in a way you are. They never entirely disappear but you can replace them with good habits. It comes down to refocusing your thoughts and beliefs and being determined to install new and better habits.
1. Identify Your Bad Habits
The first step to any successful change is identifying the problem in the first place! Here, we’re talking about bad habits. Sit down with a pen and paper and start listing all your bad habits. This is not an exercise in beating yourself up when you see how many bad habits you actually have. Nor, is it an attempt to bring defeat into the picture.
You’re taking responsibility for what’s not working in your life by identifying your bad habits. This list is your first step to self-empowerment. Once, you have your list of bad habits written down, you can start implementing positive changes.
2. Strategize Avoidance Techniques
When you’re aware of your unhealthy habits, you can also identify what supports them such as taking specific actions you associate with that habit. This could be joining other smoking colleagues at lunchtime or walking down the chocolate aisle in the supermarket. Both activities will encourage you to smoke or indulge in too many sweets.
When you’re aware of what situations or people support your bad habits, you can start to strategize avoidance techniques. Drug or alcohol addicts know they have to avoid places that sell these substances as well as people who indulge in these products.
3. Identify Healthier Routines
When going through your list of bad habits, identify those that can be replaced with healthier routines. If you’ve become a couch potato, replace this bad habit with an exercise routine. Get up and aim to be mobile as often as possible whether it’s a walk around the block or climbing the stairs.
Ritualistic healthy routines such as early morning rituals may help you overcome unhealthy routines. Taking up a sport such as marathon running or mountain biking could be the key you need to stop performing unhealthy routines. While this isn’t a foolproof solution to removing bad habits, it has helped people overcome some of their more difficult behaviors.
4. Plan Ahead
This is similar to strategizing avoidance techniques but instead, having a healthier substitute to replace the bad habit whenever you need it. A lot of your bad habits are driven by stress. While learning to manage your stress levels you’re still going to encounter times of anxiety.
To eliminate the need to turn to a bad habit such as having a smoke, plan ahead for a substitute whenever the urge kicks in. Substitutes could be deep breathing exercises, doing a few yoga stretches, gardening, or playing with worry beads.
5. Visualize Conquering the Bad Habit
The visualization technique can be powerful. Pair this technique with feeling and you have a winning combination. Visualize yourself conquering your bad habit by taking a specific action that’s positive while also feeling a good emotion.
See yourself waking up earlier in the morning and visualize yourself smiling while feeling refreshed and energized as you step out of bed. Close your eyes and watch as you throw away your cigarettes while feeling reinvigorated and proud for taking such action. Visualize shopping for healthy food items and feel your body become lighter and stronger.
6. Create Positive Thoughts
Energy flows where attention goes and if you focus on building positive thoughts when installing good habits, you’ll find it easier to replace your bad habits. Instead of focusing on your bad habits all the time, bring your attention to those actions that are better. The more you do this, the more energy you give to the good habit.
You could repeat a mantra as a way of encouraging yourself to change a bad habit by using the Coue Method. The mantra, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better” is repeated at least twenty times a day, preferably in the morning and at the end of the day. By using this positive mantra, you’re installing an empowering thought.
7. Reward and Never Beat Yourself Up
Create mini-milestones when replacing bad habits. And, reward yourself every time you achieve a milestone. If you go with the opinion that it takes 63 days to remove a bad habit and install a better one, break these days up. Aim to reward yourself every 10 days as you see yourself succeeding.
Most importantly, never beat yourself up when you slip up. Instead, identify why you defaulted to your bad habit and come up with a solution. Use one of these strategies suggested in my blog to help you find a solution and accept that you’re only human after all.
The trick here is not to give up and think it’s impossible but rather to pick yourself up and start taking proactive steps as soon as possible.
Bad habits are destructive. They hold you back from achieving so much more in your life. By understanding what’s happening behind every bad habit, you can start to find ways to replace it with those that serve you And, remember, change doesn’t happen overnight so be patient and aware while being kind to yourself.
This post was updated on January 9th, 2023.