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  • Writer's pictureHayley Whitehorn

How to Make or Break a Habit

Habits lead and direct many of our behaviours, perhaps even more so then what we realise. Not surprisingly it is easier to make and maintain a bad habit then it is to break that bad habit or make and maintain a good habit!


Habits are automatic responses which are triggered by contextual cues. This means that a certain context (such as getting into a car) will trigger an automatic habit or action (such as putting on your seatbelt). There are many different psychological theories which describe how people form these habits but the key is repeated and reinforced behaviour. When a behaviour is repeated and reinforced, and coupled with a reward, for a minimum of 21 days then a habit is formed.


There are good and bad habits, which everybody has, which are formed and are able to be changed across your lifetime. Where do our bad habits stem from? Bad habits such as smoking or nail biting can stem from various things. It could be linked to an anxiety, to nervousness, to absentmindedness, to stress, etc. These habits form because they bring some sort of relief or comfortableness to our lives. But now how do we break these unhealthy habits and replace them with better behaviours?


How to Break A Bad Habit and Make a Good Habit

1. Build Awareness

Pay attention to your current habits and make note of the ones which are not helpful or are harmful and you wish to change them in some way. Take time to build insight into why you started engaging in this bad habit, what did you find enjoyable or useful about it?


2. Make A Goal and Tracking

Decide on the habit you wish to change or the habit you want to create in its place. Once you have made a decision you can create a SMART goal for your habit breaking (how long will you work on breaking this habit, how frequently will you engage in a better habit, etc). Track all your actions and behaviours in a journal and make note of the situations which make it harder for you to stay on goal.


3. Negative and Positive Reinforcement

Impose a punishment for your bad habit. For example, if you slip up and bite your nails then you cannot have your after-dinner dessert. Then also impose a reward for your good new habit.


4. Habit Stacking

This is a term which refers to attaching a new better or healthy habit to an activity which you already enjoy doing every day. For example, if you want to add a daily walk to your everyday habits then make sure you go for a walk after you have made a delicious lunch and relaxed.


5. Start with A Simple Step

One small step at a time can add up to powerful new habits and behaviours. Do not engage in your bad habit for one morning, one day, one week, etc and it builds up. Follow the 2-minute rule – start with just two minutes of practicing the new habit.


6. Remember The “Why”

Remind yourself constantly why you have chosen to break this bad habit and the benefits it will bring to your life.


7. Support

Tell others about your goals and the habits you which to break. Creating a support system which can hold you accountable and encourage you.

Remember that everyone has bad habits but everyone is able to create good habits and everyone can change their automatic reactions. It may take you a couple weeks or a couple of months or a couple of years, it does not matter, just keep trying!


“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”

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