Sep 20, 2022 - Health

How to break a bad habit

Illustration of a hand holding a hammer that is breaking a text message bubble.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Our lives are ruled by our habits — the good and the bad. And it can be even tougher to ditch a bad habit than it is to pick up a good one.

The backdrop: Last week, we culled for you the top hacks on how to form good habits. Today, we're bringing you advice — from expert interviews and research studies — on how to shed the bad ones.

  • "Don't believe in the crap that has been put into the world about how to break bad habits," says BJ Fogg, a Stanford psychologist who studies habit formation. "If it were that simple, we wouldn't have so many problems in the world."
  • "Breaking bad habits is a far more complicated process than making new ones."

Here are our top tips to get started:

  1. Make it hard. It's easier to curb a bad habit if you make it difficult to do, Fogg says. If you're sick of using your phone before bed, put it in another room.
  2. Design the bad habit out of your life. It's hard to break out of a habit if you keep your environment exactly the same. If your goal is to lose weight, stock your fridge and pantry with the foods you'll feel good about snacking on instead of buying — then trying to resist — the junk.
  3. Be patient with yourself. As we all know, these changes take time. But we're quick to blame ourselves or give up after a slip-up or two. Treat yourself with grace, and don't expect perfection.
  4. Call in the experts. There are minor bad habits you can tackle yourself, like nail-biting or late-night snacking, and others that are far more serious, like substance abuse, Fogg notes. Make sure you seek professional help if you need it.
  5. Celebrate! Just as with good habits, it's important to celebrate the small milestones on the road to shedding a bad habit. Journal about it, tell your friends or post pictures — anything to reinforce those happy feelings in your brain.

Go deeper: Top tips on building good habits that last

Go deeper