Bad Habits

Breaking Free: Overcoming Bad Habits

“I wish I could change, but I no matter how hard I try, I can’t.”

“But I just can’t help it…”

“Everyone does it…”  

“It may be wrong, but you’d do the same thing if you were in my situation.”

We are all creatures of habit. Your habits affect who you are. We first make our habits, and then our habits make–or break–us.

Change your habits, and you change your life. Habit is like a cable. We weave a strand of it every day until it is extremely difficult to break. In the end, our habits become either the best of servants … or the worst of masters.

Bad HabitsA habit is defined as an involuntary pattern of behavior or practice, usually acquired by frequent repetition. Not all habits are wrong or undesirable.

In fact, most habits are good. We dress in the morning, tie our shoes, and write our names, not out of focused concentration, but through the ease of habit.

Some habits, however, are annoying and undesirable–even downright self-destructive–ranging from nervous mannerisms and certain speech aberrations to smoking and overeating. When a habit is negative, it hinders or harms and when a habit is positive, it fosters health, self-esteem, and interpersonal relationships.

You may be wondering why we develop habits and whether habits are important or not. Habits help us establish order and allow us to do things automatically, with little thought. This, in turn, allows us to focus on other areas of our lives that demand our immediate attention. Originally, our habits are developed because they meet a perceived need.

When they no longer meet a need, they continue on automatic and may be reinforced by people around them. A few other reasons are innate human defiance, the need for social acceptance [smoking, drinking], the inability to truly understand the nature of risk, an individualistic view of the world, the ability to rationalize unhealthy habits, and so on.

If you have an undesirable habit you’d like to break, don’t despair. You can put an end to your most troublesome habits, including anxiety, negative thinking, compulsive eating, constant throat-clearing, knuckle-cracking, fingernail-biting, nervous tics, smoking, and even habitual physical or spiritual laziness, in much less time than you ever imagined–sometimes in a matter of days–and in most cases, you can do it on your own.

There are innumerable books, tapes, counselors, and psychologists all ready to give you advice … and take your money. However, with a well-thought-out plan and a little persistence, you can break your own bad habits just as surely as you formed them. The hardest part of overcoming a bad habit is ‘starting.’

Research has identified six stages that people go through in trying to change habits. The stages are:

Precontemplation – resisting change

People are not thinking seriously about changing and are not interested in any kind of help. People in this stage tend to defend their current bad habit(s) and do not feel it is a problem. They may be defensive in the face of other people’s efforts to pressure them to quit.

 Contemplation – change on the horizon

People are more aware of the personal consequences of their bad habits and they spend time thinking about their problem. Although they are able to consider the possibility of changing, they tend to be ambivalent about it.

In this stage, people are weighing the pros and cons of quitting or modifying their behavior. Although they think about the negative aspects of their bad habit and the positives associated with giving it up (or reducing it), they may doubt that the long-term benefits associated with quitting will outweigh the short-term costs.

 Preparation – getting ready

People have made a commitment to make a change. Their motivation for changing is reflected by statements such as I’ve got to do something about this; this is serious. Something has to change.

What can I do? people are now taking small steps toward cessation. They are trying to gather information (sometimes by reading things like this) about what they will need to do to change their behavior.

Action – time to move

People believe they have the ability to change their behavior and are actively involved in taking steps to change their bad behavior by using a variety of different techniques. This is the shortest of all the stages.

The amount of time people spend in action varies. It generally lasts about 6 months, but it can literally be as short as one hour! This is a stage when people most depend on their own willpower. They are making overt efforts to quit or change their behavior and are at the greatest risk for relapse.

Maintenance – staying there

People in this stage tend to remind themselves of how much progress they have made. People in maintenance constantly reformulate the rules of their lives and acquire new skills to deal with life and avoid relapse.

They are able to anticipate the situations in which a relapse could occur and prepare coping strategies in advance. Maintenance involves being able to successfully avoid any temptations to return to the bad habit. The goal of the maintenance stage is to maintain the new status quo.

Recycling – learning from relapse

Along the way to permanent cessation or stable reduction of a bad habit, most people experience relapse. In fact, it is much more common to have at least one relapse than not. Relapse is often accompanied by feelings of discouragement and seeing oneself as a failure.

While relapse can be discouraging, the majority of people who successfully quit do not follow a straight path to a lifetime free of self-destructive bad habits. In fact, relapses can be important opportunities for learning and becoming stronger.

People who have relapsed may need to learn to anticipate high-risk situations (such as being with their family) more effectively, control environmental cues that tempt them to engage in their bad habits (such as being around drinking buddies) and learn how to handle unexpected episodes of stress without returning to the bad habit. This gives them a stronger sense of self-control and the ability to get back on track.

Certain pointers for starters

  • Changing habits isn’t a matter of willpower, but patience and strategy. Don’t expect to overhaul your diet, exercise, or thinking patterns in a day.
  • Tackle one habit at a time.
  • Get some leverage on yourself. Tell a friend your plan so you will be more likely to commit to the change.
    Most big changes aren’t going to happen the first time. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you fail the first time; just tweak your approach and go again.
  • Know the Pain. Feel what will happen to you if you don’t make a change. Use your imagination to enhance the image of your results should you do nothing.
  • Stay Consistent. Try to keep as many aspects of your habit in control when conditioning to make the associations stronger. Do things at the same time and in the same pattern to ensure your results stick.
  • Remind Yourself. Put reminders of your habits around you. Put up Post-It notes, affirmations, or whatever you need to stay consistent
  • Motivate Yourself. Get the motivation when things get tough.
  • Don’t Strive for Perfection. Focus on the habits that are important and minimize those that aren’t.
HABIT Quick Tips
Smoking Gum or Consult a doctor.
Gossiping Take up a new hobby to keep your mind off other people’s business.
Spitting Swallow, don’t spit. Chew gum instead of tobacco.
Nail biting Paint nails with foul-tasting polish. Wear gloves.
Procrastinating Use a daily calendar and to-do list to monitor tasks. Force yourself to carry out the plan once you make it.
Provide personal incentives for completing things.
Work on confidence building.
Bragging Realize the only person you need to impress is yourself. Realize people will like you for being genuine


Some bad habits can actually turn out to be helpful. They may cause trouble most of the time. Yet, there are those instances when they seem to fit the situation perfectly. Since most people have at least some bad habits, it is probably good that they have a helpful side.

Habits, good or bad, make you who you are. The key is controlling them. If you know how to change your habits, then even a small effort can create big changes.

Frequently Asked Questions Related to Bad Habits:

Q1: What are bad habits, and how do they form?

A1: Bad habits are repetitive behaviors that have negative consequences for our well-being. They often form through consistent repetition and reinforcement.

Q2: Why is it challenging to break bad habits?

A2: Bad habits can be challenging to break because they are often deeply ingrained, trigger a sense of reward, and may serve as coping mechanisms.

Q3: What are some common examples of bad habits?

A3: Common bad habits include smoking, excessive procrastination, nail-biting, overeating, and excessive screen time, among others.

Q4: How do bad habits impact our physical and mental health?

A4: Bad habits can lead to various health issues, including stress, obesity, addiction, and poor mental health.

Q5: What strategies can be used to break bad habits successfully?

A5: Strategies include setting clear goals, replacing bad habits with healthier ones, seeking support from friends or professionals, and using positive reinforcement.

Q6: Are there any apps or tools that can help track and break bad habits?

A6: Yes, there are many habit-tracking apps and tools available that can help individuals monitor their progress and stay motivated.

Q7: How long does it typically take to break a bad habit?

A7: The time required to break a bad habit varies from person to person and depends on factors such as the habit’s complexity and the individual’s commitment.

Q8: Can bad habits be replaced with good habits effectively?

A8: Yes, replacing bad habits with good ones is a common and successful approach to habit change.

Q9: Is professional help, such as counseling or therapy, necessary to break certain bad habits?

A9: For some individuals, professional help may be beneficial, particularly when bad habits are deeply rooted and challenging to overcome alone.

Q10: Are there support groups or communities for individuals seeking to break specific bad habits, such as addiction support groups?

A10: Yes, many support groups and communities exist for individuals seeking help with specific bad habits, including addiction support groups and weight loss programs.

Q11: Can bad habits resurface after being successfully broken?

A11: Yes, bad habits can resurface, especially during times of stress or significant life changes. It’s important to remain vigilant and have strategies in place to prevent relapse.

Q12: What are some proactive steps to prevent the formation of bad habits in the first place?

A12: Proactive steps include self-awareness, setting boundaries, seeking healthier alternatives, and establishing positive routines.

Q13: Can bad habits have social or relationship impacts?

A13: Yes, bad habits can strain relationships and affect social interactions. They may lead to conflicts or discomfort among family, friends, and colleagues.

Q14: How can parents help children break bad habits or prevent them from forming?

A14: Parents can lead by example, provide guidance, and create a supportive environment for children to develop healthy habits.

Q15: What role does self-discipline play in breaking bad habits?

A15: Self-discipline is a crucial factor in breaking bad habits. It involves setting boundaries, making conscious choices, and staying committed to change.

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