It can feel daunting to attempt to break a bad habit that’s been a part of you for years. You’ve probably thought about quitting this habit, discussed it with friends, and declared it to be a goal or New Year’s resolution in the past. Perhaps you’ve even tried to break a habit before and failed.
As daunting as it sounds, it’s not as hard as you might think to break a bad habit if you have a solid plan. Just as you learned to do the thing you’re trying not to do – you can unlearn it, too. Let’s take a look at the seven steps that will help you put an end to this habit for good. Within the plan, I outline three common, simple examples of bad habits, and how you can break them following the seven steps. I’m hoping the examples will give you a sense for how easy it can actually be to break a bad habit – and keep it out of your life.
Step 1: Identify Bad Habit
This is the easiest step. What habit are you trying to break? When do you do it and what motivates you to continue?
Example 1: Snoozing in the a.m.
Example 2: Smartphone addiction
Example 3: Overeating at meals
Step 2: Consider the Bad Habit’s Impact
If the habit were good for you, you wouldn’t want to break it. How bad is it? Let’s take a look. You may need 10 or 15 minutes of quiet for this step.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
- Visualize yourself continuing on with this bad habit in your life. Picture yourself doing it, and what will follow if you continue.
- What are five different ways this bad habit is affecting your life in a negative way? What is outside of your reach with this bad habit still present in your every day? What other implications does this habit have on other areas of your life?
- Now visualize yourself in the future, having successfully broken this bad habit. What is now available to you, now that this habit has been nipped in the bud?
When you’re finished, write down what came up for you in this exercise. As you begin the process of breaking this bad habit, each time you notice yourself consider or begin the old habit, remind yourself of the negative impact of the bad habit, and the end goal. Take out your notes from this step every day if you need to remind yourself of the negative impact this habit has on your life.
Example 1, The negative consequences of snoozing:
- Makes me late to work
- Makes me feel rushed and frenzied in the morning, and starts my day on the wrong foot (this can lead to a host of other issues…)
- Since I’m feeling rushed, I’m usually in a bad mood, which can cause me (and often does) to snap at my spouse and kids in the morning.
- Makes me feel bad about myself, like I’m a failure because I snoozed again, and am therefore late again. This insecurity can spill into my work and lead to a host of other consequences.
- Makes me miss out on my morning workout or meditation, which also causes a negative ripple effect.
Example 2: The negative consequences of smartphone addiction:
- Makes me less productive at work
- Makes me less present with my family
- Makes me run late in the morning
- Distracts me from what is important in my day
- Makes me less aware and less present to myself and my needs
Example 3: The negative consequences of overeating:
- Makes me gain weight or unable to lose weight. If I don’t lose weight, I will continue to feel insecure, continue to have health issues, and I won’t fit into the dress I want to wear to my best friend’s wedding.
- Gives me heartburn at night, which can also lead to a poor night’s sleep (which can lead to an unproductive next day)
- Makes me feel lethargic
- Makes me feel shameful, guilty, and bad about myself
- Derails my fitness goals, making me lose confidence. When I lose confidence in this way, I lose confidence at work and in my dating life, too.
Step 3: Make the Bad Habit More Difficult
Humans like to be lazy, which means we take the easier route when there is one available. This makes sense given the busy schedules and full plate most of us have each day. The key to breaking a bad habit it to make it more difficult to continue. When you put an obstacle in your way of the bad habit, suddenly, it becomes less inviting and you’ll be less likely to continue.
Put obstacles in your way to make the things that aren’t good for you —harder to do.
Example 1, Snoozing: Put alarm clock or phone on the other side of the room so you have to get up to turn it off, at which point, you are already up.
Example 2, Smartphone addiction: Cut off your notifications or download an app that makes you pause before opening the apps that most distract you. Try the Space App, whose mission is to help you kick app addiction
Example 3, Overeating: Try using smaller plates. If you can’t fit “too much food” on your plate, it becomes harder to overeat. If you go out to eat a lot, ask for a to-go container at the beginning and set aside part of the portion for leftovers before you dig in. In either case, it will be more difficult to plate your food again, than to just finish what’s on your plate.
Step 4: Create a Baby Step
Most bad habits include many steps to breaking them, some of which are easy and some of which are the big, scary steps. What’s the first step to ending your bad habit? This doesn’t have to be the end goal, but what’s the first, small step that will move you in the right direction?
Make it super easy and attainable. When you succeed with this first small step, you’ll be motivated to keep going. If you set yourself up for an unrealistic first step, you’ll be at risk for getting unmotivated and not moving forward.
Example 1, Snoozing: I will start by committing to waking up without snoozing twice in the next week.
Example 2, Smartphone addiction: I will commit to putting my phone on airplane mode for one hour a day, from 7-8pm.
Example 3, Overeating: I commit to using a smaller plate one meal a day so I can better control my portion sizes.
Step 5: Create Accountability
How will you ensure you’ll actually do the baby step that you’ve decided on? What do you need to do to 100% make sure it gets done? Can anyone help? Here are some ideas for creating accountability:
- Put it on your calendar for the most reasonable time; make sure you set up an automatic reminder
- Put it on your to-do list and check it off when it’s done
- Enroll an accountability buddy who has a similar goal. Check in with them daily or biweekly.
- Ask your significant other, child, or a good friend to ask you about it each night or once a day.
- Post it on Facebook so the world now knows your plan. If friends ask about it, you’ll want to give them a positive update.
- Hire a professional coach (like me!) to keep you on track
Example 1, Snoozing: Ask a friend to check in daily via a quick text or call. Offer to do the same for a goal of theirs. Bonus if you have the same goal.
Example 2, Smartphone addiction: On your calendar, mark 7-8pm as your “smartphone-free zone.” Set a reminder for 15 minutes prior to ensure you get a heads-up and finish anything you need your phone for temporarily.
Example 3, Overeating: Ask your significant other, a child, or a coworker who shares a specific mealtime with you to keep tabs on your plate and portion size.
Step 6: Reward Yourself
Each time you reach your next step, or with each day that goes by habit-free, celebrate your accomplishment in some way. It can be as grandiose as planning a trip or as small as a high five. Here are some ways to celebrate accomplishments that are small, yet rewarding:
- Make yourself your favorite cup of tea
- Take a yoga class or go for a walk or run
- Book a massage
- Eat a small piece of dark chocolate (unless of course your habit is to quit chocolate)
- High five your accountability buddy
- Call a friend
- Buy a new book or item you’ve been eyeing
Example 1, Snoozing: When I get up without snoozing in the morning, I will stop at my favorite coffee shop on my way to work.
Example 2, Smartphone addiction: When I reach my hour of smartphone-free time each night, I will have a small treat to celebrate. When I reach a successful week of this, I will book a massage.
Example 3, Overeating: At the end of the meal where I’ve successfully regulated my portion, I will make myself a cup of my favorite tea or call a friend (and tell them how good I’m doing with my goal!)
Step 7: Repeat Steps 4 through 7
Once you successfully follow through on the first baby step, what are you now ready to commit to, to ensure you’re moving forward toward your end goal?
Example 1, Snoozing: Once you make it to two days a week where you haven’t snoozed, move your goal up to three or four days.
Example 2, Smartphone addiction: Once you are able to consistently keep your smartphone-free hour each day, try removing notifications from your phone and see how much you’re able to resist your phone for the rest of your day. Or, try a smartphone-free half-day each week.
Example 3, Overeating: If you are able to regulate your portion size for one meal a day, start to branch out into other meals.
Once you define your next step, you’ll notice you’re inching toward your end goal of breaking the bad habit. Make sure you have a plan for accountability and are keeping up with your rewards along the way.
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As an ICF Certified Executive Coach, Melissa partners with leaders to develop their executive presence, strategic and systems thinking, resilience, communication skills, and influence in order to reach their goals. Melissa is passionate about supporting leaders and teams on their growth journeys toward greater impact, more collaborative teams, and stronger results.