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How to Break Up With Your Bad Habits

Author:NeuroGym Team

Breaking Bad Habits and Forming Good Habits

We all have them. If you brush your teeth or get dressed in the morning or stop to eat at regular times, you have a habit. Forming habits is easy. Breaking habits is a challenge, but you have the power to do it. 

Breaking Bad Habits

So what do you do? Just stay in the same rutt of negative habits? Well, hopefully, for your own sake, your answer is no. If you can master your old patterns and form new ones you will be on the road to success. Let’s take a look at where your old habits come from and how you can replace them for a better life.

Why Do We Have Habits?

We form habits without even realizing it because most of our habits fall naturally into our lives and become part of our routine. In fact, studies have shown that when we act out a habit we aren’t even thinking about it. Not all habits are negative, they are just actions that we take repeatedly.  Habits can involve fairly mundane things in life like hygiene (showering, brushing your teeth), going to work or school, or going to bed at a similar time each night. Habits are part of life and some are necessary for survival.

Our bad habits are formed just like our good ones. We have learned we get a reward for acting out the habit. And this doesn’t only apply to humans! Anybody who has had a dog as a pet will know they require training. Usually, you will offer your canine companion a treat when they do the trick you ask them to do or when they stop going to the toilet indoors. Eventually, the dog will develop an understanding that they are being rewarded when they do the right thing. 

Although we humans are more complicated, we learn the same way. When we were kids, our parents would punish us if we did something bad, and praise or reward us if we did something good, creating our reward-based learning. As we grow up, we continue to form habits because of the same reward-based learning. When we break it down, reward-based learning involves:

  • a trigger
  • a behavior
  • a reward

Let’s take each of these individually.

The trigger is what sets everything in motion. This could be a feeling like anxiety or boredom.

Next up is the behavior. This is, in essence, performing the habit. The behavior is what we do to satisfy the trigger, whether it’s checking our phones or smoking a cigarette. 

Finally, there’s the reward. This is the satisfying part. When we have completed the behavior we might get a feeling of joy, or see our anxiety reduced.

Putting this into practice, we can look at a habit like this. You may feel anxiety (the trigger), which makes you want to eat junk food (the behavior), which gives you the immediate satisfaction of reducing your anxiety (the reward).

So, now we know: our habits are all learned. The issue here arises when a habit is negatively impacting our lives. 

Why Should We Break Bad Habits?

Thankfully, all habits can be broken with some work. The habit does not own or control you, it is just something you do. But why is breaking bad habits important anyway?

Let’s take the example of a college kid during the summer break. Maybe they are staying up every night until the early hours of the morning playing video games. This person is up until it gets bright out, which means when they are finally going to bed most people are waking up. 

This may seem like a college kid enjoying their summer, but it’s doing a lot of damage to their routine. We need to look beyond the habit as a simple action and see how it affects one’s whole life. 

When a college student home for the summer isn’t starting their day until after lunch time, think about what this is doing to their body clock. Their meal times are completely out of sync with what they were during college semesters. This is important since when we eat our meals impacts our bodies. If we go from eating at the usual times to eating all our meals late in the day then suddenly our bodily chemicals are all out of order. 

As for how it might affect someone’s life as a whole, because their routine is so out of sorts, they will spend a large amount of time on their own since they’re up all night while everyone else is asleep. By the time the next semester of college rolls around, they’re likely to be dealing with anxiety and depression, and will struggle to adjust back to college life.

When we have a habit that adversely affects our life, it makes everything else difficult. Negative habits can disempower us. They can impact our health, our social life, and get in the way of things we really need to do. That is why we need to break them by implementing effective habit building strategies.

How to Go About Breaking Bad Habits 

It is beneficial to make it a part of our routines to take time each day to look at our habits. This way, we can create a plan to dump our disempowering habits

Here’s five tips on how to ditch your dirty habits:

  • Practice mindfulness: To break a habit, we have to be aware of what we are doing and why we are doing it. When you notice yourself acting out the habit, engage with your curiosity. Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing. What triggered this behavior, and what reward will you experience?

Breaking Bad Habits

  • Replace the habit: Instead of acting out a negative behavior that has adverse effects on your life, find something else! Developing positive habits that empower you will help you get rid of negative ones. If you are eating a lot of junk food you can replace that with healthy eating. If you do this, you are doubling the benefit of breaking harmful habits by starting good habits.
  • Set SMART Goals: SMART goals are an excellent tool for self-improvement and breaking bad habits. These goals are:


    • Specific: Set a real target for yourself. Don’t just say “I want to do better”; specify the exact action you will take.
    • Measurable: Make sure you can track your progress. You have to be able to measure whether you’ve achieved the goal. 
    • Attainable: There’s no point setting a goal you cannot achieve. Give yourself a challenge, but one that you are capable of completing.
    • Realistic: Honesty is important. Be honest with yourself about what you can manage over time. You cannot change everything in one day.
    • Time-based: Set yourself a deadline. Give yourself a realistic timescale in which to measure your progress.


  • Keep a journal: Speaking of tracking your progress, keep a journal of how you are doing. When are you finding being without your negative habits a challenge? This way you can see patterns in yourself and help replace old habits with new ones.
  • More mindfulness!: Mindfulness can be a really helpful tool for improving your life, especially when making a change to your bad habits!

Planning to break unhelpful habits and creating new constructive ones are part of the same process. Thankfully, we are all the masters of our own habits!

The Importance of Forming Good Habits

The most rewarding part of breaking bad habits is that you can replace them with good ones. You can develop a positive and empowering habit to make your life more fulfilling. Remember what we said before, regularly review your routine. Building new habits takes practicing. Determining how you can adjust your habits is a really empowering process, and becomes easier over time.

Habits involve patterns we repeat. So it’s really important that they add something constructive to your life. Whether it is exercising regularly or taking time to meditate, a helpful habit is beneficial to our life.

Breaking Bad Habits

Establishing positive habits is an attainable goal if you take the right steps. Remember, when you are thinking about good habits to build:

  • Take a holistic approach. Take into account your whole life to see what you want to improve and where you can improve it, from diet to socializing to work.
  • Reflect on your experience with your bad habits. Why did you develop them? What was your trigger? What was the reward?
  • Get support from friends. Let someone you trust know what you are trying to do so they can help you, whether it’s by doing it with you, or providing emotional support.
  • Build a routine that supports your new positive habits. 
  • Celebrate the wins! Give yourself credit when you achieve something and show some self-compassion when you are struggling.

There are some great tools to use for incorporating new habits into your life, like vision boards and gratitude journals. Remember, it takes practice to form new habits!

In Summary 

Now you are ready to get started establishing better habits that will fulfill you. Set yourself goals to get into a good routine and leave the bad behind! And remember, breaking bad habits is a process that takes time and effort, but it is extremely rewarding! So start breaking up with your negative habits and implementing new positive ones!

About The Author

NeuroGym Team

NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.

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