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Bad Habits - How Can We Break Them?

Written and reviewed by
Ms. Jayshree Sarda 89% (13 ratings)
M phil in Rehabilitation Psychology, M Sc in Medical Psychology
Psychologist, Hyderabad  •  16 years experience
Bad Habits - How Can We Break Them?

A habit is a routine of certain behaviour which all tend to repeat regularly without a fail. As like, brushing is a good habit, it keeps your gums and teeth healthy. There are some habits that aren’t good for you. Smoking, for example, is a habit that can seriously damage your health. 

The problem with habits is the lack of conscious thought behind them. While training yourself to be conscious of everything all you do is ask, there are other ways you can get rid of bad habits.

First, you have to understand the psychology behind any habit.

Once you break a habit down, you will notice that they develop in three stages –

  • Cue (Signal)

  • Routine

  • Reward

Let's take smoking as an example again. The cue for smoking could be boredom, fear, anxiety - the exact cue varies from person to person. Then comes the routine, you take a cigarette out, light it and take a puff.  The reward or a feeling of goodness.

Now if you want to get rid of bad habits, then you can use this habit loop to your benefit. 

Here’s how – 

1. Break the habit down to its stages

For any habit that you want to get rid of, identify its stages. Look at the circumstances that set the ambience, the time of the day, if you have a company and your emotions.

Here is an example -

After a hard day at work (cue), you come in and lie down in your couch (routine) and start watching movies on Netflix (reward). 

2. Look for alternatives

Once you break the habit down, the next step is to look for suitable alternatives. An alternative that will produce the same emotions that the current bad habit is producing. 
If you like binging (excessively indulging) on Netflix then you can opt for a walk in the park or go for an outdoor walk with someone. That might also help you distress after a hard workday. 

3. Commit to the alternative

The next step is commitment. It is very easy to relapse into your old habits. To effectively rule that out, you have to remind yourself constantly to stick to the alternative. You can ask friends and family to remind you if they notice you relapsing. Or you can use the wallpaper on your phone to remind you. 

4. Don’t rule out relapses completely

Know that at times you may relapse. Don’t take it too hard and beat yourself over it. That will make things worse. Try to focus on one day at a time. Remember that you create habits so you can unlearn them too. Habits don’t have any power over you because they are your creation and not the other way around.

In case you have a concern or query you can always consult an expert & get answers to your questions!
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