How to Change Your Unhealthy Habits

Find yourself looking for food when you’re not hungry? Do you spend late nights binging your favorite Netflix show even though you have to wake up early?

If so, you're not alone. We all struggle with “bad” habits. By definition, habits are tendencies or practices that we perform regularly and end up becoming a part of our daily routine. In turn, our body, brain, and spirit become so accustomed to these habits, it can be extremely difficult to break them.

However, as you can imagine, in order to achieve mental wellness, it’s vital we find ways to break these habits. Our habits are inevitably who we are. And it’s in our best interest to replace negative habits with positive ones in order to increase productivity, reduce stress, and live healthier.

Throughout this blog, we’re going to offer you some advice on what you can do to break even the worst habits.

How Long Does It Take to Break a Habit?

While there are a number of studies discussing how long it takes to change your habits, it varies from person-to-person. Not to mention, the habit in question and our willingness to achieve it play significant roles.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, found it interesting that it took people a certain amount of time to adjust to their surgeries. From his findings, he found it took about 21 days for people to adjust. While other experts have picked up this 21-day theory, it’s anything but concrete.

In a 2009 study, Phillippa Lally and a team of researchers looked into how long it took an individual to change habits. 96 participants were examined over a 12-week period and each had to pick up a new habit.

These habits varied in how much effort it took to achieve them. For example, some people simply started drinking water during their lunch hour while others took on regular exercise in the evenings.

The team found that habits can become automatic for individuals when continuously practiced over a period of time. As already mentioned, this period of time varies from individual to individual. However, a general timeframe is between 2 and 8 months.

Changing Habits | A Step-By-Step Guide

When you want to change a bad habit, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take in order to ensure your brain and body become adjusted to a healthier habit. Remember, how much you focus on this process is extremely important for and the motivation behind your actions and how successful you become.

1.) Understand the Habits You Want to Adjust

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re already aware of the habits you’re looking to change. Still, it can help to pinpoint exactly what habits are causing you to participate in unhealthy behaviors.

It’s important to be specific with these habits. Some are going to be obvious - for example, if you’re up all night watching Netflix, you’re well aware you need to turn off the television at a certain hour.

However, some habits aren’t going to be as obvious - for example, picking up your shoes and putting them in the closet when you come home. Little habits shape our big habits and with that, it’s important to look into our overall behaviors. Through this, we can pinpoint the areas of our day-to-day lives we need to change - from big to small.

2.) Lay Out Consequences for When You Fail

It’s only natural you’ll give into a bad habit every now and again through this process. That’s okay as your body and brain are still adjusting to a new way of life. But just because it’s okay doesn’t mean such failures should go unrecognized.

Every time you give into your bad habits, you should lay out a simple consequence. Obviously, this will vary from person-to-person depending on their willingness to change. Still, there are a number of effective measures you can take.

For example, it may help to have a “Failure Jar” that you throw $5 into every time you perform a bad habit - similar to a “Swear Jar.” Obviously, such actions require the discipline to ensure you’re paying for your failures. It may help to have a partner (preferably, someone who lives with you) that holds you accountable.

3.) What’s Causing Your Habits?

Chances are your bad habit is caused by something either within you or within your environment. Research has found that stress and boredom are two of the main triggers when it comes to a bad habit.

Find your triggers. Once recognized, it will be easier for you to overlook certain habits you perform without second thought. Furthermore, it will give you the opportunity to replace these habits with more positive ones.

4.) Start Small and Work Your Way Up

Many people become discouraged when trying to change a bad habit because they’re aiming too high. They want to automatically start that new diet, get into an aggressive exercise, or completely reverse their sleep schedule.

The thing is our brains and bodies need time to adjust to a new habit. With that time, it’s probably a lot more beneficial to make small changes and from there, work your way up.

For example, if you’re trying to change your sleep schedule from - let’s say - 2:00am to 10:00pm, it can help by going to bed at 1:00am. Then in a few days, you can try catching those zzz’s 12:00am and from there, 11:00pm. This steady change gives your body the proper time to readjust.

5.) Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Your bad habits are likely a cause from your environment. In order for our brains to follow a routine, they must first have something to cue said routine. From there, they will seek out a reward that’s presented from this routine.

We become so accustomed to routine, we don’t even know we’re in one most of the time. However, in order to break this routine, it’s important we step out of our comfort zones and make changes to our environment.

For example, if you play scratch off lotteries daily and want to break out of that habit, you have to first stop visiting the shop that sells these scratch offs. If you happen to take daily walks that pass this shop, it’s probably in your best interest to find a new walk route.

6.) Patience is Key

As we discussed above, it takes a lot of time to make a healthy change. With that, you need a lot of patience in order for your brain and body to readjust to new habits. This is where your willingness plays an important role - if you’re willing to make the change, chances are you’re going to be more patient with yourself.

Final Word

Changing a bad habit isn’t easy, but it can be extremely rewarding. Think about all the times in your life you had wanted to make changes and didn’t. Then consider where you’d be if you had made those changes.

The thing is, you still have the opportunity to change. But it’s going to take a commitment that you may not have before considered.

Adjusting our habits may require a great deal of patience. Luckily, according to research, it only takes an average of 5 months for those changes to become our new normal.

Written by: Paul James