15. Jul, 2022

Substituting Good Habits 4 Bad Habits

If there is nothing good about a bad habit, why does everyone have them?

Bad habits interrupt our lives and prevent us from accomplishing things. We’re too late for this or too late for that; we jeopardize mental and physical health; we waste mountains of time and energy.  

So why do we still do them? And more importantly, what can we do about them?

There are volumes of scientific papers about how habits start, so now let’s focus on the practice of making changes in the real world.

How can we change bad habits for good ones? 

No one honestly claims to possess all the answers, but keep reading and you’ll see what has been learned about how to change a bad habit.

What Causes Bad Habits?

Most bad habits are caused by two things:  stress or boredom and most of the time, bad habits are simply a coping response to the uncomfortable.

Stress may be defined as the balance between our capacity to cope and the demands placed upon us.  It’s a see-saw with capacity sitting on one end and demand sitting on the other.

Do you know, for example, anyone who can’t stop biting their finger nails?  Or, when money is short, goes out on a shopping spree? Or, binge drinks? Or, spends hour after hour on the Internet just to relieve their ‘boredom’?

But Does It Have To Be That Way?

Because habits are, well, habits, you choose them! Note, in my introduction I said change not delete!

You can teach yourself new and healthy replacement habits to deal with stress and boredom. Of course, sometimes the stress or boredom on the surface is actually caused by deeper issues. Issues that can be tough to think about. But if you’re serious about making changes for the better, you will promise yourself you are going to remain honest.

So, ask yourself:

1)    Are there certain beliefs or reasons that are behind my bad habit?

2)    Is there some past or imagined fear, or event, that causes me to hold on to something that is not good for me? 

Recognition of root causes is critical to becoming more effective viz. cause and effect!

You Don’t Eliminate A Bad Habit, You Replace It!

Everyone possesses habits ~ good or bad. They contribute to our outward behaviour and are founded on what we think and feel about ourselves.

No one would honestly argue positively about the negative effects of smoking or using illicit drugs, so why do so many people inflict this insidious habit upon themselves ~ and others?

No one would honestly argue positively about remaining in an abusive relationship, so why do so many put up with it?

Most people agree that on a smaller scale, biting finger-nails, pulling/twisting ones hair, incessantly tapping ones foot or fingers, clenching ones jaw, twitching and pulling faces are systematic of stress.

But What About The Following Examples?

Unless your job-role requires it, do you open your email as soon as you turn on your computer? Do you insist it helps you feel ‘connected’? Are those emails complementary to your early morning mental productivity? Do they split your attention and overwhelm you with stress? Does your heart rate increase? Check that out next time you open your inbox.

Because poor/bad habits seem to fulfil some type of benefit in your life, it’s difficult to simply stop doing it. This is why simplistic advice like, “Change it; you have 5-minutes” rarely works for most. Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a desired benefit. 

For example, if you smoke when you get stressed, then it’s a bad plan to “just stop smoking” when that happens. Instead, you should come up with a different way to deal with stress and make that new habit part of your new behaviour. The medical evidence against using substitute smoking pipes is overwhelming so try chewing sugar free gum or make yourself a cup of 100% cocoa (100% cocoa or chocolate has medical benefits).

In other words, to break the bad habit, it’s better to replace it when the need arises with better one that satisfies a craving.

Few people have the mental strength to simply cut out bad habits without replacing them.


1. Choose A Substitute for Your Bad Habit ~ anticipate how you will respond when you face the stress or boredom that prompts your bad habit. What are you going to do when you get the urge to smoke? (Example: breathing exercises instead.) What are you going to do when Facebook is calling to you to procrastinate? (Example: write one sentence for work.).

2. Recognise and Remove Triggers ~ if smoking when you drink is habitual, avoid places that allow it. If you eat cakes, crisps and biscuits when they are in the house, don’t buy any. If the first thing you do when you sit on the settee is pick up the TV remote, keep it in a different room where you will have to get up a fetch it.

Make it easier to break bad habits by ring-fencing yourself from them: you’ll be surprised how quickly the better habits take effect

3. Buddy Up ~ how often have you tried to lose weight by yourself? Or maybe “stop smoking” without telling anyone? That way it’s OK to fail, right?

Pairing-up with someone with the same aims engages one another. The two of you hold each other accountable and celebrate victories too. Knowing that someone else expects you to be better is a very powerful motivator.

4. Surround Yourself With People Who Live The Way You Want To Live ~ you don’t need to dump all your old friends either, ask them to help you achieve what you want, but don’t underestimate the power of finding new friends living the life you want either.

5. Visualize Succeeding ~ see yourself throwing away the cigarettes and buying healthy food, or waking up early and going for a walk ~ maybe with a new dog? Whatever the bad habit is that you are looking to break, imagine yourself defeating it, smiling to yourself as you enjoy your successes.

6. You Don’t Need To Be Someone Else ~ so often we think that to break a bad habit we need to become an entirely new person. The truth is that you already have it in you to be someone without your bad habits.

In fact, it’s very unlikely that you’ve had these bad habits all of the time. Like anything else most habits are learned! Even if it was years ago, you have already lived without this bad habit, which means you can most definitely do it again.

7. “But” Overcomes Poor Self–Talk ~ one thing about battling bad habits is that it’s easy to judge yourself for not acting better. Every time you slip up or make a mistake, it’s natural to tell yourself how much you’ve failed. Whenever that happens, finish the sentence with “but”…

  • “I’m fat and out of shape, but I could be in shape a few months from now.”
  • “I’m stupid and nobody respects me, but I’m working to develop a valuable skill.”
  • “I’m a failure, but everybody fails sometimes.”

8. Plan-in Failing ~ most great successes followed spectacular failings!  So accept coming up short and making mistakes as part of your plan for getting better. One good habit that you can start right away is reading about others who have overcome ~ anything!

Where to Go from Here?

If you’re looking for the first step to breaking your bad habits, start with making-a-list. It’s easy to get caught up in how you feel about your bad habits. You can make yourself feel guilty or spend your time dreaming about how you wish things were … but these thoughts take you away from what’s actually happening.

Awareness shows you how to make good changes ...

  • Where are you right now?
  • Where do you want to be?
  • What are the different ways of getting there?
  • Which way is the best for you right now?

List and frequently review your answers keeps you more aware of the habit(s) you want to change and prompts the good ideas for overcoming.

Keep a record of how many times each day your bad habit occurs. Each time a bad habit raises its head, make a note of it and how you handled it. At the end of each day, check your total and your responses to each.

In the beginning,  your goal is not to judge yourself or feel guilty about doing something unhealthy or unproductive. Your only goal is to remain aware of when your bad habits happened to you, how often and what you did about them. Wrap your head around the problem by being aware of it. Then, you can start to implement the ideas in this article and replace your bad habit(s).

Breaking some of your bad habits may take time and will take effort, but mostly it takes perseverance.

Most people who end up replacing their bad habits try and fail many times before they make it work. You might not have success right away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have it at all.

To explore this paper, or arrange your workshop email john@uetp.co.uk

Complicated IS Easy! Simple IS Hard!