21 Ways to Give Up a Bad Habit

June 4th, 2010 by Chris Prentiss

Beliefnet’s guide to kicking unwanted behaviors.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Is there a habit or behavior you would like to change? There is room in all of our lives to say goodbye to a limiting habit and adopt a new and healthier one. Yet making and keeping a commitment can be challenging. Stepping up to the plate to create real change takes more than just courage. It takes consistency, realism, support, and a willingness to discover the underlying issues. These 21 tips will help you reinvent your life with more zest and create new habits that will last.

1. Stop Punishing Yourself
Don’t beat yourself up for having unhealthy habits. Guilt and shame are poor motivators. Instead, congratulate yourself for recognizing the need to change and wanting to improve.

2. Take Control of Your Thoughts
Your thoughts are powerful tools for reinventing your world. Choose the thoughts you will focus on. As you notice negative thoughts telling you it’s too hard to change, gently redirect them, as many times as it takes, to the positive track of “I can do this.”

3. Challenge Limiting Beliefs from the Past
Beware of your old conditioning and limitations that family or friends may have imposed on you. A wonderful world of total possibility surrounds you. Your goals are more achievable when you believe they are.

4. Make Commitments and Keep Them
There is only one constant in your life and in every plan you make: you. You must be able to rely on yourself totally to see your plans through to success. When you follow through on your commitments, you will also gain the respect of others.

5. Write Down Your Intention and Focus on it Every Day
To stay focused on your new choices, clearly and concisely write down exactly what you want your new behavior to look like. Carry a copy of that statement with you and tape it on objects like your mirror, the ceiling over your bed, the dashboard of your car, your desk or schoolbooks. Keep your new goals front and center.

6. Observe Your Attitude
Your attitude plays a huge role in your success. Are you determined and excited about moving ahead with your new goal, or are you resentful and easily demoralized? Are you eager to be on this new path of self-development, or do you see this as an overwhelming chore? The more you face the task with anticipation, expecting a good result, the more successful you will be.

7. Seek the Right Kind of Support
The help and encouragement of a buddy, mentor, or professional can go a long way—as long as they believe in you and your goal 100 percent. Choose friends and mentors who will never tear you down but always cheer you on.

8. Create Your Own Affirmations
Reinforce your desires, goals, and commitments by creating a short, inspiring statement that is positive and captures the feeling of well-being you want to achieve from your new habit. Throughout the day, say your affirmation aloud with exuberance. As you do, be sure to deeply feel what you are saying as being true for you.

9. Visualize Your Perfect Day—Every Day
When you first awake, take two minutes to visualize what life would be like for you if you were already embracing your new habit. See yourself moving through your daily activities as that person—strong, powerful, and in control.

10. Act the Part
As you go through your day, act as if you have attained your goal. Be that kind of person in your words, behavior, and attitude. As a result, others will begin to see you as you want to be, creating a wonderful circle of reinforcement.

11. Take One Step at a Time
Reaching any worthwhile goal requires many small steps. Set yourself up for success by breaking down the path to acquiring your new habit into realistic, attainable steps that are just enough for you. Mastering one small step at a time will also keep you from getting discouraged.

12. Review Your Day
At the end of each day, sit quietly and reflect on how well you did in taking the next step toward your goal and practicing your new habit. Ask yourself what you can do better next time to insure that you will behave or respond in the way you want to. Focus on that tomorrow.

13. Choose Your Friends Carefully
Old habits are often tied to former routines, friends, and hangouts. Creating a new lifestyle comes with new choices. Choose friends and associates who model the new way of life you want to lead.

14. Get Your Heart Beating
Find a form of exercise that is fun for you—and do it. Getting energy flowing through your body regularly will help you feel strong and more confident.

15. Get Back into Balance
Unhealthy habits, anything from eating too much greasy food to drinking too much alcohol or caffeine to regularly staying up late, can be a reaction to an imbalance you are unconsciously trying to right—anything from hypoglycemia to an overactive thyroid to sadness or heartbreak. Get help in addressing the underlying imbalance and you may no longer need to overindulge

16. Speak in Positive Terms
When you think and speak in a judgmental or negative way, you produce negative results. The opposite is also true. By replacing negative language with positive speech, you will find your thoughts clarified, your speech uplifting, and the response of others rewarding.

17. Eliminate “I’ll try” From Your Vocabulary
When we say, “I tried,” in the past tense, it means we have failed at reaching a goal. Likewise, saying “I’ll try” is a way of excusing ourselves from doing the hard work of accomplishing whatever it is we are setting out to do. When you make a commitment or promise to yourself or others, say instead, “I will do it!”

18. Face Obstacles Rather than Sidestep Them
You will most likely meet challenges along the way to acquiring your new habit. If events occur that get in the way of you accomplishing your goal, rather than complaining or trying to sidestep them see them as perfect opportunities to focus your attention more strongly in the right direction.

19. Expect Help at Crucial Moments
The Universe is on your side because you’re a part of it. When you come to a point where you have given your all to reach your goal but are running out of steam, trust that something will happen to help you get past the tipping point.

20. See Your Striving as Part of the Big Picture
Deciding to adopt a healthy habit is part of the larger framework of your life. The work you put into hitting your target will help you build the strength, wisdom, and power to attain this goal as well as greater accomplishments. The path to your goal is as important as the goal itself.

21. Practice, Practice, Practice
No new habit comes without hard work. If you fall back into your old ways, don’t condemn yourself and don’t give up. Like everything else, the more you practice your new behavior, the more expert you will become at doing it. Practice consistently and soon it will become second nature.

Chris Prentiss is the author and co-director of the Passages Addiction Cure Center in Malibu.