How to Change Unhealthy Habits
Updated: Jan 6
While some habits are positive, many can be unhealthy, such as staying up too late, not drinking enough water, engaging in disordered eating patterns, or smoking cigarettes. If you're interested in breaking unhealthy habits, find some steps to do so below.
1. Define The Habit You Want to Change
Before trying to change an unhealthy habit, it can be helpful to define the habit that you want to change specifically, and list the reasons why you want to break this habit. This can increase your awareness of what the habit actually is, and motivate you to actually change the habit.
2. Determine Your Triggers
Keeping a journal of situations and events that trigger temptations or urges can help you change your habits by increasing awareness of your triggers. Whenever you experience an urge or temptation to engage in the habit you're trying to change, write down where and when it happened, the situation you were in, the emotional state you had, and the events leading up to it. Once you are aware of what your triggers are, you can try to avoid them if possible, or try to prepare yourself and work through them when you encounter them.
3. Replace The Unhealthy Habit With a Healthy One
It's easiest to break an unhealthy habit if you replace it with a healthy one, and develop an action plan to do so. Once you've identified your triggers, you should create an action plan for how you will avoid engaging in your unhealthy habit that includes what you will engage in instead. For example, if you are trying to stop drinking coffee in the evening, a trigger may be someone else drinking coffee in the evening around you, and an alternative habit that you could engage in to avoid a craving could be drinking water or another caffeine-free drink instead.
4. Replace "I Can't" With "I Don't"
It's best to say "I don't do that" rather than "I can't do that" when faced with temptation to engage in a habit that you're trying to change. You can say this in response to someone else, or you can say it to yourself in your head if you'd like. Studies have shown that this slight change in wording improves our success in breaking the habit we're trying to break.
5. Reward Yourself
Rewarding yourself not only motivates you to keep changing your habits, but it also teaches your brain that engaging in the alternative, healthier habit is better than engaging in the unhealthy habit. In this way, rewards make it more likely that you will actually change the habit. This is based on the principles of operant conditioning (click here to learn more).
6. Be Patient With Yourself
Changing an unhealthy habit can be very difficult, so be patient with yourself and don't be ashamed if you have lapses (engaging in the habit that you're trying to change). Remember that a lapse does not mean that you have failed, and that almost all people trying to break a habit experience lapses. Remind yourself that you're doing great!
To learn more about changing unhealthy habits, click here.