Do you have a slip-up or a coping mechanism for stress? A bad habit that you are guilty of but can’t get rid of? Does hitting the snooze button many times sound familiar? If any of this sounds like you and you want to get rid of a bad habit then, you came to the right place. We will help you with how to break a bad habit in 11 manageable ways.

Humans are not perfect. Everyone has habits some are good while others not quietly so. Habits take time to develop and mature. Often times they are subconsciously built and engraved in your personality. Although, habits are always motivated by some triggers. For instance, stress motivates you to bite your nails or overeat. Yet the more you do something, the more is your brain likely to follow that pattern whenever a similar situation arises.

However, breaking bad habits though not quite easy can be easily achieved by staying consistent and following the tips shared below. For this, you need to be patient and understand that how long would breaking a bad habit take, first.

How long does it take to break a bad habit?

Breaking bad habits might not be easier but to ease the process a bit you need to understand how habits form in the first place. Habits are basically formed on the 3R’s principle i.e,

a) Reminder

A reminder is a trigger or a cue from your surroundings that unconsciously motivates you to react a certain way. For example, stress might trigger overeating. These can also be conscious behaviors like washing your face or brushing your teeth in the morning.

b) Routine

Repeatedly doing anything makes it a routine. Like washing your hands after you are done with the dishes. Or, making your bed first thing in the morning. Doing a task repeatedly makes it a routine. Having coffee in the morning is also a part of a routine for some people without which they cannot function to the fullest.

c) Rewards

Everything you do is associated with a feel-good sensation, or rewards to be precise. For instance, higher stress makes you eat more pizza than you would routinely have. Just because that the act of having pizza diverts your attention from the problem to the food. It gives you a feeling of pleasure. Similarly, some people pray when they are stressed because they feel connected to their God. While talking specifically about bad habits others tend to turn towards smoking during stress as it calms eases their anxiety. 

The idea of 3R’s in mind will help you better understand the time taken to make or break a habit.

What is the 21 by 90 rule?

While it may be a popular belief still that it takes 21 days to make a habit. It is not quite true. The 21 by 90 rule came into practice when plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz noticed that his patients who underwent plastic surgery took 21 3 weeks to get accustomed to their new features. He also suggested that people, in general, need 3 weeks to get used to anything new like a new city or house. However, this is more of habituation, the process of getting used to anything new because you have no other choice about it. In Dr. Maxwell’s case, the patients he referred to had only gone through a facial surgery and now they couldn’t undo it. It’s more of passive submission to something you can’t control now.

However, habit formation takes a conscious effort. You can control your behavior and the circumstances. For example, you could have finished your task on time if you hadn’t procrastinated and lied down on your couch, surfing mindlessly on the gram. Here you have a choice. Making or breaking a habit requires more consistent and conscious efforts.

How long does it take to break a habit realistically?

Realistically, it takes about 2.5 months or 10 weeks to make a habit or break it according to research by the British Journal of General Practice published in 2012.

Another study by the University College of London, examining 96 adults who wanted to alter any of their behaviors took approximately 18 to 254 days.

So, although change isn’t easy and the process of building or stopping a habit might face setbacks, it is the conscious effort that plays a greater role here. You might take as less as 18 days to as much as 254 days to form a new habit or break an old one. However, if you keep the 3R’s strategy in mind you might just get rid of an extremely useless or harmful habit of yours if coupled with consistent effort.

10 easy ways to break a bad habit permanently

Breaking bad habits is not easy especially when you have had the habit for a long time. But, you can break the habit loop if you try consistently for change. Though you will slip up often during the process, however, with the following tips in mind you will eventually get rid of those nasty habits once and for all.  

1- Know your triggers

Remember the 3R’s strategy? Yes, it’s always a trigger that initiates any behavior. Be it overspending on junk while up for grocery shopping or hitting the snooze button again and again only to find yourself rushing through the morning. The first to get rid of a bad habit is to identify the triggers that enforce the behavior.

If you tend to rush through your morning and consistently arrive late to your workplace then you have to identify why you do it. It might be due to sleeping late at night. But, why do you sleep late at night? Maybe because you watch TV while lying on the couch? Or do you surf on the internet going from link to link? Whatever you do, you are wasting your time one way or the other. This results in staying up late past midnight and getting late to work the next day.

So, to interrupt the negative feedback mechanism you need to recognize your triggers first. Get rid of the habit of watching TV by keeping the remote in another room. Switch off the Wi-Fi connection and keep your phone away. Once you start identifying the cues you’ll be in a better position to deal with them.

2- Change your environment to break a bad habit

Your habitual behavior is always a product of your environment. If your environment does not change so won’t your habits. In order to get rid of the seemingly detrimental habits, it’s important that you change your environment after you have identified your triggers.

Let’s suppose if you have the habit of stopping by your favorite candy store on your way home you probably need to change your route. If you tend to scroll mindlessly on Facebook instead of studying you should consider going to a library. Once you realize what triggers the bad habits you need to cut the cord with that environment.

Now, the environment also means the people you surround yourself with. If you have friends who tend to gossip while together, you would develop that habit as well. A better way to deal with such people is to let them know about your boundaries. Once you put it out there, you would be more conscious about what you do.

Also, to break the negative loop of a bad habit like scrolling through social media for hours you should consider placing the Wi-Fi connection in some other room. You would probably let go of the idea of turning it on as you wouldn’t want to get out of the cozy sheets.

3- Take one step at a time

‘The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.’

Confucius

At the beginning of a new journey, you are always way too excited to see a new and improved self in a short span of time. To achieve this goal of change you tend to kick many bad habits in the same go. This might work sometimes but fails most often.

If the habits link together, like staying up late past midnight and watching TV, then this formula of kicking them with a single shot would work. Watching TV leads to getting late to bed. Thereby, if you quit the habit of watching TV in the evening you would certainly don’t roam around in the house till [past midnight doing nothing. Or you might replace one unproductive (like watching TV) with a productive one (like reading a book).

However, if the habits don’t fit in the same box then you probably won’t be successful at both. So, start somewhere though small. If you want to cut down on your sugar intake you might consider quitting all candies and ice-creams first. The next week you can go on with cutting down on bakery items. If you tend to have two slices of cake start by having 1 and a half first. Remember, you have to inscribe the new patterns into your mind without overwhelming it. It’s always the small and manageable steps that make a goal achievable.

4- Replace the habits

If you are serious about breaking bad habits then you need to let off the idea of stopping them. Has anything ever stopped if you just simply say ‘don’t’?  Has a smoker ever quitted smoking just because the doctor told them not to? No, it never works that way.

A better and workable solution to this is by replacing the older, unproductive habits with new, healthier ones. Keep in mind that a habit is etched in your mind due to the reward it gets from it. Be it a temporary feeling of ease or relief from boredom. Whatever you do is the outcome of these two signs and the behavior that follows suit lets you free from it for a while. If you crave a bar of chocolate at work try turning towards a healthier option like dark chocolate or a granola bar. You can even keep nuts and dried fruits with yourself to snack on if you feel your energy crashing.

Replacing the older habits with new ones will have better results than just stopping yourself from doing anything at all. In the long run when your brain realizes the rewards it gets from healthier behaviors it would more likely prefer continuing the healthier habits.

5- Stick with them

Setting goals is easier than sticking by them. You might have seen people going too far while writing their new year’s goals. Well, writing and planning for a change is one thing but taking steps towards it is another. That is why you should always do it for yourself and not for anyone else.

Doing something for yourself is far encouraging than changing yourself for anyone else. After all, people are never grateful for whatever you do for them eventually. Change is always a choice and that choice should be made for yourself.

Why am I emphasizing ‘Change for yourself so much? Because when you do something for a person then though in the start you feel motivated after a certain time you feel it to be a burden. Also, when you plan on change for yourself you would be more focused because of a clear vision of an improved self.

Although it is easier said than done. Yet sticking to a habit can be made possible if you adopt a clear mindset. Start enjoying the activity you are planning to adopt as a habit. Make the habit as tiny and as easy as possible. For instance, if you are trying to learn cooking, don’t start with a 50 ingredient and 2 hours prep dish. You’ll most probably just do it once. Start small and then build step by step.

Also, you might want to skip a day once a week. That’s completely fine unless you don’t miss 2 straight days. Never do it. Forget about the change for a day and enjoy your day. But, the next day there’s no ditching right! Beat yourself up if you want to but do not miss another consecutive day, ever!

Related; How to Change Your Mindset

6- Motivate yourself to break a bad habit

‘Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.’

Jim Rohn

While breaking a habit can be extremely time-taking and difficult it is motivation that can help you down the process. How? As motivation helps you clarify your goals and reasons for acting a certain way it becomes easier for you to act in that direction. In short, motivation is your willingness to do something. You are more prone to perform a certain action when you know your ‘why’.

Habits as you know need conscious efforts in the start. If you don’t keep them doing consistently, those actions will never be ingrained in your mind in the form of habits. What connects habits and motivation together? It is your ‘why’ or the reason for doing something that links both habits and motivation together.

To adopt a certain habit you have to make efforts. To make efforts you need to stay motivated. How do you stay motivated along the process? You need to encourage yourself for what little you achieve. ‘Incentive’ another name for motivation can also be used to increase your productivity down the lane. According to research examining Motivation and Study Habits, a motivated student is more likely to plan ahead and more determined to do things well. The same goes for any motivated individual.

Once you realize that small steps make greater changes, you would acknowledge

whatever little you achieve. Enjoy your journey. Celebrate yourself for every small accomplishment. Give yourself treats and rewards. A cheat day once a week with your favorite food would never hurt your journey. But, it would surely make you work harder as you would look forward to that day every weekend and work even harder on weekdays.

Related; 7 highly effective ways to regain motivation

7- How to break a bad habit- Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is the technique of staying alert and being aware of the present moment. It helps you stay conscious and know what you are feeling or sensing at the moment without interpreting it. Simply put, mindfulness meditation helps you live in the moment, completely aware of your feelings.

While talking about breaking bad habits, you need to practice this more often. Not only will it make you realize the change you are going through but also make you aware of your thoughts during the process. In a busy world like ours, it is hard to slow down and notice little things. Whether you are trying to shift from a diet full of processed food to one rich in nutrients. Or you are struggling to read a book for 10-20 minutes daily rather than scrolling your DM’s on Instagram. Mindfulness can really work wonders once you focus completely on your thoughts and feelings.

As you become aware of your surroundings you would realize the cues that lead to unproductive habit formation. For instance, if stress leads you to bit your nails, mindfulness activities will help you lessen your stress and anxiety. Also, once you notice the tiny changes that practicing healthy habits bring to your life you would be more determined on doing them till it requires no effort at all.

8- Reminders – They always help!

Reminders, always help you stay on track when you are about to slip. Whether it is a handwritten note on your refrigerator door trying to remind you about the pledge you made to limit drinking soda frequently. Or, the one-hour reminder you set on Instagram to keep a track of your screen time. Reminders are always beneficial.

You can use sticky notes, stickers, or even set reminders on your mobile that would notify you at a specific time. If you are trying to include some physical activity into your daily life, go with having a walk in the evening after you are done with dinner. While food always makes you sluggish afterward, a reminder on your smartphone would just do the trick. Set the alarm for the particular time and you would be good to go. You might want to add some powerful motivating quotes to it as well.

In a nutshell, to break a bad habit you will have to stay away from it deliberately. For this, you need to make consistent efforts. Reminders would just be perfect to do the trick here. 

9- Find a partner

You might have heard the famous maxim,

‘A friend in need is a friend indeed.’

That’s extremely true when you are on your journey to break a bad habit.  Habits are as clingy as anything you would like to think of. Once being ingrained in your brain, habits are hard to get rid of. In the long and tough journey of letting go of a bad habit, a friend or any support can always work wonders.  If you have a friend or two who is also trying to get rid of any bad habit then you should join hands with them.

As the saying goes better two than one. Because when you share the same goals with someone else you more likely to follow the routine and stick to the aim. Also, when one person is slipping up the other can always lend a hand to support. You would have a better time dealing with cravings when you see that someone else is together with you in this journey as well.

However, it is important that you keep encouraging each other along the journey. If you are trying to hit the gym every weekend try acknowledging each other for that. Enjoy your journey together and you would surely be on your path to stopping a bad habit permanently.

10- You will stumble along the way

People often ask, why is it so hard to break a bad habit? Well, it is due in part to the occasional slipups. Let me be honest with you here, writing about tips to break a bad habit is easier than acting on them. Realistically, breaking bad habits can be a long and tiring journey. You would often fall back and get into the rut of those unproductive habits. You will skip a day or two once in a while. Further, you might not even want to get rid of them altogether. Whatever you do, breaking bad habits is not an easy process.

Firstly, you need to encourage yourself the realization that you do possess unproductive habits and you want to break them now. Secondly, slipups are a part of the journey. No road is smooth enough to lead you straight to your goals. There would be bumps and pits along the way.

You cannot get rid of a bad habit in a day or two. It took a while for you to build those habits so breaking them would also take time now. What you need to do is to learn from every fall. Never beat yourself up for an occasional slipup. Nor be discouraged. Focus on the journey rather than the end goal. Whatever you do however minute it might be if it leads you closer to your goal then you are in the right direction. Also, a day missed does not negate all your past efforts.

So, don’t be harsh on yourself. Every day you learn new things. Consider slipups as a learning lesson too and identify the triggers that led you astray rather.

Related; Powerful habits to overcome massive failure

11- Be patient

Everything you do in life, at any stage of it would take time and effort. Life is not a piece of cake. It requires hard work, commitment, and dedication. But, above all it requires patience. If you have all other qualities but patience then you are good for nothing.

Remember that everything takes time. If the goal is bigger it would take even more time than something smaller in magnitude. Just as anything else, breaking bad habits would also take time. Sometimes the time taken would be more than you had expected. Other times it would be easier to shake those habits with a little effort. The time taken by you to break a habit depends on a number of variables. Like for how much time you have had those habits, the needs that the habit fulfills, or the environment that you thrive in whether it is facilitating those unproductive habits or helping you to break them. All these things count when you are on your journey of breaking bad habits. Therefore, never expect a one-night change.

According to research examining Patience and Well-being suggests that people having more patience experienced decreased depression and higher positive well-being in life.

Humans take time to adapt to a new environment. Similarly, you would take time to build a healthy habit or break an unproductive one. Keep a track of your progress and be patient with the results. Also, even if you don’t make any progress for weeks remember that your mind has recognized the bad habits you possess and the need to let go of them. This in itself sets the tone right for any future progress.

With love and patience, nothing is impossible.’

Daisaku Ikeda

Conclusion;

Keeping in mind all the struggles that people go through in life and adopt certain bad habits due to it, it is pertinent to say that even if the realization hits you, you are on the right track. Don’t look back from now onwards. Stick to the above-mentioned tips and soon you would envision an improved self. The key here is to never lose focus, try hard even if you fail initially, and trust the process.

About the Author

Sara Khan

Sara is a freelance writer and an entrepreneur running a fashion label 'Rococo official'. She aims to spread happiness and inspire people whether through writing or clothing.

View All Articles