How to Change Any Bad Habit in 5 Steps

Habits make up the majority of what we do, think, and feel every single day. 


They reflect our health, financial status, social circles, and literally everything we do. 


In this post, we will answer the following questions about habits, specifically to help you regain control of your health, and how you feel every day. 


  • What are habits, exactly, and how do we form them? 
  • How do we change them (and keep them)? 
  • Are all habits created equal? 
  • Habits are actions we take automatically, without conscious effort, in response to a stimulus, which give us a reward.


     It is quite easy to understand once we look at the image below. 

    In this diagram, the cue is like a trigger or stimulus that reminds your brain to do something.


    This can be external like a place, time of day, or a person.


    It can also be internal such as a feeling, thought, or physical sensation. 


    The routine is the action that makes up the habit, such as smoking, exercise, drinking coffee...etc.


    Lastly, the reward is the feeling you get from doing the action. 


    Such as a calming feeling after a smoke, feeling energized after exercise, or feeling awake after drinking coffee. 


    Below is a full loop of the above examples:

    1. Cue: feel tired, feel bored, feel stressed. 
    2. Routine: drink coffee, go for a run, go out for a smoke. 
    3. Reward: feel awake, feel a rush of endorphins, feel calmer. 


    These loops go on and on because you cannot eliminate a habit.


    You can only replace it with a different one. 


    The good news is that you CAN change any habit, now that you understand how they work. 


    Here’s how!



    You can change almost any habit in 5 steps: 


    Find your Cue

    If you are aware what you cue is, you have a choice of what routine to do. 


    Cues can be external, internal, and are often a combination of both. 


    All cues fall within these categories, along with habit examples for each cue: 


    1. Time of day: showering in the am, feeling hungry at lunch time, brushing teeth at night.
    2. Location: Locking your car door after getting home, putting on your "game face"upon arriving at work.
    3. Preceding event: eating after a run, smoking after an argument, or calling a friend after receiving big news.
    4. Other person(s): gossiping with certain people, drinking too much with that one friend.
    5. Emotional state: emotional eating, watching TV when bored, smoking, drinking, or drugs to relieve anxiety or depression.

    Once you identify your cue(s), you can now plan accordingly.


    If hanging out with a certain friend often leads to bad decisions, say no, or have a talk with them about it. 


    If you find yourself eating to relieve anxiety, boredom, or any upsetting emotion, address the cause of those feelings. 


    Ultimately, finding the reward for each habit will allow you to make new choices. 


    Identify Your Reward

    Once you’re aware of the cue, you can choose a new routine, and it MUST meet  your existing reward. 


    For this, you will make a list of possible rewards and try out different routines to see which one eliminates the need for the original routine (Bad habit).


    Rewards are always feelings we have at the end of the routine. 


    Rewards are always a positive feeling of joy or pleasure, or a sense of relief from a negative feeling such as pain or discomfort. 


    Choose a New Routine

    Make sure the new routine is simple and takes about the same amount of time and effort as the original one. 


    Difficult to do or complicated routines do NOT last. 


    For instance, if smoking helps calm you down, replace it with 5 minutes of belly breathing. 


    On the other hand, if smoking wakes you up, replace it with a 5 minute fast breathing routine, or exercise to get your heart rate up. 


    Both new habits can meet the original reward, take the same amount of time and effort (especially with practice), AND eliminate the negative effects of the old habit. 


    Be Consistent

    It takes about 21-30 days before a new response becomes a routine. 


    Sometimes less; sometimes more. 


    Staying consistent with your response will ensure your brain begins to associate the new response with a positive emotion. 


    If that seems unlikely to you and you feel resistance to make the change, remember there was a time when this habit was NOT a part of your life. 


    Sooner than later, you will feel the same attachment to the new habit, once you teach your brain that it is GOOD for you. 


    Your brain responds to consistency and feeling good. 


    Look for Feedback

    If for some reason your new response does not work and you fall back on your old routine, don’t sweat it!


    It happens to everyone. 


    It usually means you need to tweak your routine until you get what you want. 


    It’s a process. 


    Both learning AND failure are progress


    Reflect on your reward and make sure it is the right one, and if not, then find it. 


    Continue tweaking your routine until you find what works. 


    Use your friends, colleagues, or a coach for accountability and support to help you stay on track. 


    Much like habits, our friends can be pillars to help us maintain these new lifestyle changes. 


    Choose your friends wisely.


    Now is play time! 


    Find one habit you would like to change that is negatively affecting your health, and follow the 5 steps above.


    Ideally, this habit is something you do every morning or night, but it can be any other time as well. 


    Start with something simple & decide that you will definitely change this habit no matter what. 


    We recommend using the FREE habit tracking APP HabitShare to track your success and celebrate it with friends. 

    Good luck!

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