How to Break Bad Habits

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We all have habits, tried, practiced and learned behaviors that let us act on autopilot.
They keep us in check and make sure that we can complete tasks on autopilot and still get them right every time.
You can compare a habit to a mental programming that you can access anytime you drive a car, get out of bed, prepare yourself in the morning or go to work.

It lets you think about other things while doing things you do every day, perfectly.
biting nails
The problem is that all of these programmed habits aren’t beneficial.
Negative habits can be hard to break, but are very important to address.

Most of us have a few bad habits like biting our nails, eating when stressed or taking a glass of wine after work every day.
Some of these habits you don’t even notice doing, I had that problem when biting my nails, it came so naturally that I didn’t even think about it.

It is the nature of a habit that makes it hard to shed
Since habits are programmed behaviors designed to make it easier for us to function, practiced behavior becomes hard for us to change.
Our mind has learned to act in a certain way each time it encounters a situation, to unlearn a habit it takes a lot of conscious effort.

Focus on the positive outcome not the habit itself
Focusing on a habit only reinforces it. The mind has trouble with the word “not” it doesn’t really understand the concept, which means that to the mind “I am NOT going to eat” becomes “I am going to eat” which reinforced the habit.

If you are down and depressed, the state of mind you are in when you chose to eat to cheer yourself up (I am using an example here, change the habit and situation to fit your negative habit) don’t even mention food in your mind, instead focus on what you should do instead e.g. “I will take a walk to clear my head” “I will write the things down so that I can look at them” and so on.

This method works and is the most efficient way to shed bad habits in my experience.
Try it and let us know, what do you think?

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  4. Book Review: Million Dollar Habits, By Brian Tracy
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9 Responses to How to Break Bad Habits

  1. Hi Daniel,

    Positive words are indeed very important in everyday life and in particular the word ‘NOT’ needs conscious brain power to understand a sentence. People think in pictures and not in words only. E.g.

    If I would ask you to NOT picture a pink elephant right now, would you be able?


    Thanks for sharing!

    • Daniel M. Wood says:

      Good point. I like that you added the importance of pictures in thinking.
      Thank you, that really added a new level to the post.

  2. Fred Tracy says:


    Definitely don’t focus on the habit itself. The more bad things we focus on, the more we feed our energy into negativity. Like you said, focus on the desired solution. That will cause a habit to often go away by itself.

    Take care.

    • Daniel M. Wood says:

      Hey Fred,

      How are you?
      It is a lot easier this way. But it feels natural to focus on the negative habit, just look at most diets, all they talk about is food.

      • Fred Tracy says:

        Doing fantastic.

        I just read an article that said that 80% of our thoughts each day are negative..

        For whatever reason, it’s so easy to focus on the negative and on bad habits.

        I have no idea why it’s this way, but we should do our best to change it.

        How have you been lately?

        • Daniel M. Wood says:

          Well, 66,3% of all statistics are taken out of the blue ;)

          I don’t believe we focus 80% on the negative, but I do agree we put to much focus on the negative.
          The amount of time we focus is too much and varies between people and periods of our lives. But even if it was only 10% it is too much!

          I have had a couple very busy weeks, but hopefully next week will be more reasonable, how about you? :)

  3. Aiden Clark says:

    This is a very interesting article for me. I have had plenty of bad habits over the years, but thankfully, some of them I have managed to shed, for example smoking. Very glad I sorted out that particular habit years ago.

    I agree with where you say focusing on your habit can be unhelpful. I’m currently trying to tackle my nail biting problem that I’ve had for 25+ years, and I’ve failed at many stages along the way. The methods I have found most effective are the ones that do not intrude into my life, and don’t need me to focus on them, instead they force me not to bite my nails. but I am not constantly fixated by it. I’m sure the same goes for other habits too.

    Many thanks for a great article anyway. Cheers.

  4. Pingback: The Gratitude List…How to Condition Yourself for Success: How to Break Bad Habits | Salesjournal

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