Even though we may not like to admit it, we all have bad habits. It may be something as simple as biting your nails, clearing your throat or cracking your knuckles. Or it may be more serious and lead to health risks, such as smoking or overeating.
I have chewed my fingernails since I was 4 years old. I have tried many times to quit, but inevitably I start up again. I am going to try to quit for good, so I have been researching how to break a bad habit once and for all.
Here are 7 steps to help you break a bad habit:
Step 1: Find out why
Our habits are based on situations, emotions and routines. The first step to changing a bad habit is to examine its context. When and where do you perform the habit? Who are you with? And maybe the biggest question: Why do you do it?
I know that I chew my fingernails when I’m nervous. I am, by nature, rather high strung and obsessive about things. When I am worried or stressed, I bite my nails. I think it also gives me some sort of comfort. My mom said I went from sucking my thumb straight to chewing my fingernails.
You may crack your knuckles when you’re nervous or even bored. Many people overeat when they are upset or stressed. You may clear your throat when you get anxious.
Step 2: Acknowledge your bad habit
Tell your friends and family that you are trying to break a bad habit. I tell my husband and kids when I am trying to stop biting my nails. I often don’t realize I’m doing it. If my family knows, then they can say something to me when they see me biting my nails.
You can also write yourself a note and post it somewhere that you’ll see it frequently, such as on the fridge, the bathroom mirror or the door leading out of the house. I stick a post-it on my computer because I often gnaw at my nails while I’m writing. You can also keep a log or journal for a week or so. Keep track of what triggers your bad habit, where you are, and who you’re with. You may notice a pattern that will help you break the habit.
Step 3: Replace it with a good habit
It’s easier to replace a bad habit with a better habit than to just quit the bad habit cold turkey. If you want to cut back on eating sweets, keep healthy snacks on hand instead. To keep from biting my nails, I often chew gum or suck on sugar-free candy. When you feel the urge to crack your knuckles, grab a stress ball to squeeze or doodle with a pen. It is not a quick or easy fix. It will take time to make a new habit, well, a habit.
Step 4: Think good thoughts
Many times when we are trying to stop a bad habit, we try to block it out of our thoughts completely. But have you ever noticed that the more you try NOT to think about something, the more it preys on your mind? So, recognize when you want to perform the bad habit and think good thoughts about changing the habit. Focus on your new replacement habit.
Step 5: Change your routine
When possible, change your routine to help break your habit. If you are trying to cut back on drinking alcohol, you may need to find other activities instead of hanging out with friends who are drinking. Or, if you tend to drink alone at home, then get out and do something fun with friends. The same thing applies to overeating. Try to avoid the situations and routines that may lead to eating too much.
Step 6: Distract yourself
You may need to find ways to distract yourself when you feel tempted. We think we can change habits by willpower alone, but it’s hard! If you’re really craving a dessert or a cigarette, go for a quick walk. I know that I tend to bite my fingernails when I’m at my computer or watching TV, so I keep gum and suckers nearby. I also crochet when I’m sitting at my kids’ ballgames or a doctor’s appointment to keep my hands busy.
Step 7: Repeat as needed
You will slip up every once in a while. That’s why it’s called “breaking” a habit. It’s hard! If you have a lapse, don’t give up. Just jump right back into changing your bad habit into a good habit.
Do you have a bad habit you would like to break? Have you been able to overcome a bad habit? What worked for you? We would love to hear from you!