Breaking a habit, especially a deeply ingrained bad habit, can be a challenging yet rewarding process. Whether it’s quitting smoking, reducing junk food intake, or stopping negative self-talk, the journey towards breaking bad habits involves understanding how habits form, developing awareness, and creating new, healthier routines.

Understanding Habit Formation

Understanding how habits develop is crucial for anyone looking to break a bad habit, form new habits, or make positive changes in their daily life. Habits, whether they are beneficial, like exercising regularly or a harmful addiction, like smoking, form through a process deeply ingrained in our brain’s functioning.

The Habit Loop

Trigger or Cue

Every habit starts with a trigger or cue, a signal that prompts a certain behaviour. This could be a time of day, an emotional state, or a specific environment. For instance, feeling stressed (cue) might trigger the unwanted behaviour of smoking.

Routine or Behaviour

Following the trigger, a routine or behaviour ensues. This could be an old habit, like reaching for junk food when bored, or a habitual behaviour, such as negative self-talk when faced with challenges.


The brain's reward system plays a crucial role in habit formation. When a behaviour leads to a positive or pleasurable outcome, even temporarily, the brain registers this as a reward. For example, eating junk food might bring a temporary sense of pleasure.


Repetition strengthens the habit loop. The more a behaviour is repeated following a particular cue and rewarded, the more deeply ingrained it becomes in our brain, forming a habit. This is why habits such as quitting smoking or breaking the cycle of spending too much money can be challenging.

The Role of the Brain

Neurological Patterns

Habits form neurological patterns in the brain. The brain finds this repetition efficient, making it easier to continue the behaviour without much conscious effort.

Mental Health Impact

Some habits, especially harmful ones, can negatively impact mental health. For instance, habitual behaviours like smoking or overeating can affect one's health and well-being.

Strategies for Breaking Bad Habits

Breaking bad habits is a process that requires a strategic approach. Whether it's overcoming habitual behaviours like smoking, junk food consumption, or negative self-talk, employing the right strategies can make a significant difference. Here's an expanded look at the strategies to break bad habits effectively.

Developing Awareness

Identify Habit Triggers: The first step in developing awareness is to identify what triggers your bad habit. It could be an emotional trigger like stress or boredom, a specific time of day, or even certain social situations.

Understand the Reward Mechanism: Recognise what reward you get from the habit. For example, smoking might provide a temporary stress relief or a sense of relaxation.

Journaling: Keep a habit journal. Note down when you engage in the bad habit and what circumstances lead to it. Over time, patterns will emerge that can provide insight into your habit triggers.

Replacing with Positive Alternatives

Find Healthier Behaviours: Identify healthier alternatives that can provide similar rewards. If stress triggers a bad habit, substitute it with behaviours like deep breathing exercises, meditation, or physical activities.

Implement the New Behaviour: Once you have identified a healthy alternative, start implementing it. Whenever you feel the urge to engage in the bad habit, consciously switch to the healthier option.

Reinforcement: Positive reinforcement for choosing the healthier option can bolster your efforts. Reward yourself for making healthier choices.

Gradual Change vs. Cold Turkey

Assess the Habit's Impact: Some habits, like severe addictions, might require an abrupt stop or 'cold turkey' approach, especially if they pose immediate health risks.

Consider Gradual Reduction: A gradual approach might be more sustainable for less severe habits. This involves slowly reducing the frequency of the habit until it's completely eliminated.

Set Realistic Goals: Whether you choose gradual change or cold turkey, set achievable goals. For instance, if you're reducing junk food intake, start by eliminating it from one meal a day.

Seeking Support

Professional Help: A mental health professional, especially one experienced in behavioural therapy, can provide strategies and support tailored to your specific needs. Hypnotherapy alongside Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is clinically proven to have a higher success rate than just CBT alone.

Support Groups: Joining a support group can provide encouragement and accountability. Hearing from others who are facing similar challenges can be incredibly motivating.

Rely on Social Support: Friends, family, or co-workers can offer moral support. Sometimes, just having someone to talk to about your challenges can make a significant difference.

Additional Strategies

Visualisation: Visualise yourself successfully breaking the habit. This mental practice can increase your motivation and confidence.

Awareness of Negative Consequences: Remind yourself of the negative impacts of the bad habit on your health, life, and well-being.

Routine Disruption: Sometimes, changing your routine can help break the cycle of a bad habit. If a habit is tied to a specific place or time, altering your routine can disrupt the habit loop.

Breaking bad habits is a journey of self-improvement that requires patience, persistence, and the right strategies. By developing awareness, finding healthier alternatives, choosing the appropriate method to change, and seeking support, you can effectively overcome unwanted behaviours and improve your overall quality of life.

Building New Habits

Developing new habits is integral to breaking old, unwanted behaviours and fostering a healthier, more fulfilling life. Whether it's about quitting smoking, eating healthier, or incorporating more physical activity into your daily life, the process of forming new habits requires strategy and dedication.

Steps to Building New Habits

1. Start Small

Focus on Manageable Changes: Instead of trying to overhaul your entire routine or lifestyle at once, start with small, achievable changes. For instance, if your goal is to eat healthier, replace one junk food item with a healthier option each day.

Establish Realistic Goals: Setting attainable goals helps prevent feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, which is essential when you're trying to overcome bad habits.

2. Create a New Routine

Incorporate the New Habit into Daily Life: Design a routine that includes your new habit. For example, if you're trying to break the habit of going to bed late, create a routine that encourages getting to bed earlier, like reading or gentle stretching before bed.

Consistency is Key: The more consistently you perform the new behaviour, the quicker it will become a habitual part of your life.

3. Practice Self-Control

Stay Mindful of Triggers: Be aware of situations or emotions that trigger old habits. Developing awareness helps in exercising self-control and making conscious choices.

Use Techniques to Reinforce Control: Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or even simple breathing exercises can help strengthen self-control, especially when overcoming deeply ingrained habits like smoking or negative self-talk.

4. Reward Yourself

Positive Reinforcement: Each time you succeed in sticking to your new habit or avoiding an old one, reward yourself. This could be anything from a relaxing bath to a favourite activity.

Celebrate Small Victories: Acknowledge and celebrate even the small steps of progress. This positive reinforcement can motivate you to keep going.

5. Seek Support

Friends and Family: Share your goals with friends or family members who can provide encouragement and support.

Professional Guidance: For more challenging habits, such as quitting smoking or managing stress, consider consulting a mental health professional or joining a support group.

6. Stay Consistent

Incorporate Into Everyday Routines: Make your new habit a non-negotiable part of your daily routine. Consistency solidifies the habit and integrates it into your life.

Track Your Progress: Keeping a journal or using habit-tracking apps can help you stay on track and visualise your progress.

Dealing with Relapses

Acknowledge Setbacks: Understand that breaking a habit is a process, and setbacks can happen. Don't feel guilty; instead, use it as a learning experience.

Reassess and Adjust: If you slip back into old habits, reassess your strategy and make necessary adjustments. Maybe a different approach or additional support is needed.

Stay Positive: Focus on the progress you've made and stay positive. Remember, breaking a habit doesn't happen overnight, and persistence is crucial.


Breaking bad habits is a journey that requires awareness, planning, and perseverance. By understanding the nature of habitual behaviours, replacing negative habits with positive ones, and staying committed to the process, you can achieve lasting change and improve your overall well-being. Remember, each step towards breaking a bad habit is a step towards a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I stop being a procrastinator?

To stop being a procrastinator, prioritise tasks with Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle, plan your days and break tasks into manageable steps. Also, commit to a tiny first step, make tasks more enjoyable and delay before indulging impulses.

What is the leading cause of procrastination?

Procrastination is caused by stress, fear, anxiety and underlying issues like ADHD. It is not simply a matter of laziness but requires self-reflection and understanding. To tackle procrastination, it is important to identify the root cause of the issue. Once the cause is identified, developing strategies to manage it is possible.

What are the 7 steps to cure procrastination?

Eliminate procrastination from your life by recognising you are a procrastinator, making to-do lists, breaking big goals into little ones, eliminating distractions, creating a plan of attack, avoiding perfectionism, and rewarding yourself.

Does laziness cause procrastination?

Though they may appear similar, procrastination and laziness are distinct concepts; thus, procrastination is not necessarily caused by laziness.

How can I prioritise tasks effectively?

Prioritise tasks effectively by creating a task list and assessing urgency and importance, order tasks based on effort needed and adjust priorities as necessary