3 Ways to Banish a Bad Habit

By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor

Bad habits happen—even to good people.

Whether it’s biting your nails, or putting off a big project, everyone has those little routines that aren’t so healthy or helpful.

What makes a particular pattern of behavior “bad?”

Lori Campbell, gerontologist and author of “Awaken Your Age Potential,” says that a habit should be considered bad if it’s harmful to you or other people. This simple-sounding definition encompasses a wide variety of behaviors—from unhealthy eating, to compulsive shopping.

The birth of a bad habit

Habits themselves are neutral, subconscious patterns of behavior that people learn by repeating an action. Once they are formed, these patterns act as neural short-cuts, helping the brain save energy for more complex tasks. With habits you don’t think—you just do.

But, because a person isn’t thinking about the potential consequences of their actions, this lack of attention can quickly lead to the formation of bad habits. “Most people go through life letting things ‘just happen’ to them,” Campbell says, “They make reactive responses quickly and without much thought.”

These reactive responses occur more frequently when a person is confronted by stress. Sheila Foreman, J.D., Ph.D., a clinical psychologist says that most harmful habits spring from maladaptive coping techniques to difficult situations.

Reaching into the freezer for a tub of Chunky Money as soon as you come home from work is the perfect example of such a technique. Digging your spoon into that sugary, icy vice is a quick, yet ineffective way to give your stressed-out brain the infusion of feel-good hormones it’s craving after a long day at the office.

Don’t break it, replace it

Bad habits are often formed as a result of subliminal pleasure-seeking. This makes attention and awareness the most potent enemies of unhealthy routines, and two valuable tools that can be used to rid yourself of harmful patterns of behavior.

Read More:
10 Ways to Stop Procrastinating
7 Ways to Tackle Stress Eating
How to Stop Being So Hard On Yourself

Here are some techniques to help you defeat your damaging behaviors:

1. Recognize-Before you can get rid of a harmful habit, you must first be able to recognize it Habits, by definition, are automatic patterns of behavior, which is why Campbell stresses the importance of mindfulness in day-to-day life. Turn your attention to your habits—the good and the bad. Figure out which behaviors you want to change and what challenges you’ll face while trying to overcome them. Whether you’re aiming to break out of a fast food rut or seeking to get a better handle on your temper, pre-planning and goal-setting are both effective methods of working towards an achievement like breaking a bad habit.

2. Visualize-Don’t dwell too long on the negative routine. Instead, figure out what positive habits you want to replace it with. Both Foreman and Campbell suggest swapping out damaging behaviors with healthier alternatives. For example, if you love to drink diet soda, try gradually replacing your daily bottles of pop with glasses of water. In your mind, picture yourself drinking the water, think about how good it will make you feel and how much healthier you’ll be as a result.

3. Affirm-An affirmation is essentially a verbalization of the goal you’re seeking and why it’s beneficial for you. In the diet soda example, some good affirmations might be: A healthy body is the key to leading a better life, I am treating my body with respect so that it will last me as I get older, etc.

Experts differ on their estimations of how long it takes to form a new habit. Some say it can happen in as little as three or four weeks, but some studies say that the road may be a little longer.

Consistency is the key to rapidly replacing damaging behaviors with healthy ones, according to Foreman.

A study published by the University College of London found that people who were trying to incorporate more healthy behaviors into their daily routines—eating an extra piece of fruit or going for a short run—required an average of 66 days of regular adherence to their new routines for them to become second-nature.

You may be able to shorten your healthy habit adoption time by surrounding yourself with like-minded people. “So many bad habits are socially accepted and people tend to want to ‘fit in’ rather than be healthy,” Campbell says, “Start hanging around with people that emulate and live out your desired new habit.”

Read More:
Step Away From the Donut: The Perils of Emotional Eating
Anxiety Busters: 5 Ways to Overcome Your Anxiety
Feel at Peace: Lose the Guilt


Patricia G.
Patricia G5 years ago


Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla6 years ago


Margaret F.
Marge F6 years ago

Thank-you for the interesting article.

Elizabeth O.
Elizabeth O6 years ago

Useful tips.

New G.
W. C6 years ago

Thank you.

heather g.
heather g6 years ago

Thanks for the encouraging article. It is essential to be aware of your actions which are so easily done mindlessly.
I know what I'm going to try - it will be breathing deeply, even stretching or doing a few stretching exercises. That is a good habit to adopt. It not only clears the mind but is also relaxing......
Good luck everyone !

Christina B.
Christina B6 years ago

The bad habit I want to break is surfing the net when I should be studying hard instead. I'm definitely trying to use your advice.

Megan Black
Past Member 6 years ago

This will help with my nail biting problem. I do it every time I am concentrated really hard on something. I've been doing it since i was a little kid, so it won't be easy... well, wish me luck!

Rhonda Bird
Rhonda B6 years ago

Great tips...

Julia R.
Julia R6 years ago

Great tips for breaking bad habits and replacing them with healthy and good habits! Thanks.