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Five Steps to Break Bad Habits

We all have things we want to change about ourselves – so called “bad habits” such as biting our nails or twirling our hair. Habits are physical patterns of behavior that are engaged in automatically and unconsciously. Many of these behaviors are benign and generally cause no harm.

However, some habits can cause difficulty in our lives. While we might be blissfully unaware of our habits, others around us may be annoyed, inconvenienced, or even repulsed. Fortunately, there are a few simple tips that, with some dedication, can eliminate those habits permanently.

Tips to Help Break Bad Habits

1) Increase Your Awareness: Bad Habits Occur on Autopilot

Bad habits are habituated behaviors that are engaged in without our conscious awareness. So, the first step toward change is to start paying attention. Observe everything you can about your habit. When do you do it? Where? For how long? Are there patterns or triggers you can associate with your habit? It can help to observe others who share the same habit so that you can better recognize it in yourself.

2) Create a Competing Behavior

This is about retraining yourself. Pick an alternative behavior that makes it impossible to engage in your habit. Choose something that is easy to do and reasonably discrete. For example, if you have a habit of biting your nails, you might practice putting your hands in your pockets for one minute every time you catch yourself biting your nails.

As your awareness grows, you can also use your competing behavior when you first feel the urge to engage in your bad habit.

3) Break Bad Habits By Interrupting or Reducing Opportunities

Think about the triggers and circumstances that surround your bad habit. Then identify things that will make it harder to engage in your habit. These changes should be simple, small things that don’t replace the habit but just get in the way. For example, try holding a stress ball or ask someone to join you if you bite your nails when you are watching television alone at night.

4) Identify the Benefits of Change

Since bad habits often alienate others or hurt their impression of us, changing your habit might improve your relationships with family and friends, improve career opportunities, improve your health or even make life more fun. Think about what matters most to you in life and consider how changing your habit will align you more closely with your personal values.

5) Track and Celebrate Successes

Habits are difficult to eliminate. They often give us pleasure or meet an unconscious need. It’s important to focus on the positive gains rather than the slips. Every day that you can forgo your bad habit means a better day overall. The goal is progress, not perfection.

For more ways to take care of your behavioral health, learn more about our Behavioral Care services.

Jennifer Baker, LIMHP, LICSW
Jennifer Baker, LIMHP, LICSW

Jennifer Baker, LIMHP, LICSW is a Mental Health provider with CHI Health.

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