Bad habits are hard to break. Some of us struggled with smoking, late night snacking, procrastination or overspending. We do it over and over again like autopilot well-ingrained in our brain that we don’t see it as a conscious choice anymore.

Bad habits prevents us from accomplishing our goals, it makes us feel not worthy and it jeopardizes our health mentally and physically.

Let’s first take a look at how habits work. It has three basic components:

1. The cue – the start or the feeling. Examples can be craving, hunger or an emotion such as sadness or feeling of restlessness.

2. The Routine – the action or the habit itself. Examples are eating a bag of chips mindlessly, shopping for things we don’t need, scrolling through social media when we know we have important things to do.

3. The Reward – the satisfaction. This is the feeling we get after we’ve acted on our cue.

Why is it important to know the components?

Knowing the three basic components is the first step to breaking bad habits. Let’s say you have a habit of reaching for that bag of chips late at night. Notice first the cue, ask yourself, ‘what triggers this routine?’, ‘what is my body telling me?’

Another example is, you see a trending bag on Instagram (cue), you go online and search for that bag and buy it (habit), it feels good to fit in (reward). We suggest you write down these episodes so that you can see that is a pattern.

So how do you break bad habits?

Let us use these components to our advantage.

1. Know and eliminate the cue – knowing what sets off your bad habit will prevent you from acting upon it. So if you are quitting cigarettes, you don’t surround yourself with people who are smoking. Make it easier for yourself by avoiding being in situations where there is a trigger. 

2. Substitute a bad habit with a good one – This needs a little bit of planning. Knowing what you’re going to do when the cue arises will help you in making better choices. What are you going to do when you are craving sweets? (Opt for healthier options such as fruits). What are you going to do when you get the urge to smoke? (Breathing exercises or go for a walk). Find better substitute that will make you feel good and not drag you down. Eventually this new habit will fulfill your brain’s craving and you won’t feel much psychological battle. It just takes practice and patience and soon it’ll become second nature.

3. Know Your WHY – I think this is the most important step in breaking a bad habit. If you’re trying to stop procrastinating, maybe a promotion is your motivator. If you’re trying to stop eating junk food, maybe your health is your why. When you’ve figured out your WHY, you will have this energy and this energy will start your momentum to keep going and you make better decisions to achieve your goal.

Bottomline: Be kind to yourself It is going to be process. You will not be perfectly addressing your cues properly 100% of the time. And that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up – doing so will only lead to frustration and will begin the cycle of negative emotions that will affect your motivation. Plan for failure instead of dwelling on it.