Tuesday, March 19, 2013


All habits are hard to break. But we do need to keep the good ones. In fact, one of the strategies to help break bad habits is to replace them with good ones.

First a few words about bad habits.  Of course there's more than just the obvious bad ones, ie. smoking, substance abuse, excessive gambling, etc.  There are also bad relationship-habits.  For example, arguing, gossip, being the "know-it-all".  We also have thinking habits which interfere with our lives, some of which we may not even be aware of.  Fears, prejudices, obsessions, worries, etc.

I'm going to offer a definition of 'bad habit' as  any repetitive behavior or thought that interferes with your life.  That would be your health, job, relationships, peace of mind, any important aspect of your life.  And most often these behaviors/thoughts are automatic.  We often don't think about them  before doing them.


1. Identify the habit, and acknowledge that it's bad, based on the effects on you and those around you.  Break your denial.

2.  Identify the triggers.  Acknowledging the connection between the trigger and the behavior/thought  gives you more control over it.  That's not enough to eliminate the behavior, but it's a start towards breaking the habit.

3.  Know that you don't necessarily have to eliminate the behavior completely to break the habit.  Some behaviors can't be eliminated, for example, you can control your overeating though you still have to eat.

4.  Make small (easier) changes that reduce the frequency of the behavior. For example, no smoking in the car, or don't assume (a thinking habit) that your teenager is being disrespectful EVERY time she/he has a different idea than you do. You'll begin to realize the success you can have controlling, and changing your habits.  Taking small steps will lead to major changes.

5. Optional:  Keep a record of how often you do the behavior.  This also helps you to control the behavior by keeping track of your gradual improvement. You get to see which triggers create greater obstacles.  Small setbacks (if they occur) won't seem so monumental.

6.  Find a positive activity to replace the bad habit.  For example, listen to your teen (or partner, or coworker) before reacting and choose a different response (don't pre-judge).  If you do have a setback, do what you can to correct it and get back on track.

7.  Enlist the support of people around you who care (family, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, etc.).

8.  REWARD YOURSELF for small successes.  This will help you stay motivated.

If your bad habits continue to get the best of you, get some help.