Breaking the habit of doing anything that you do not want to do is more than possible with some focus. The assumption is always that breaking habits is hard work, and that doesn't have to be true. Breaking a habit you don't want in your life takes understanding the problem. The desire for change is a wake-up call to the power of habits. We see how destructive our bad habits can be but often miss how great powerful habits can be. Habits are the actions you take daily. If you can turn your bad habits into great ones, imagine how much better your life will be? It can simply start with setting up a successful morning routine

Once you form a habit, the pathway in your brain may always be there. You can think you moved away from a habit forever, but you most likely remove yourself from the cue. As soon as that cue comes back, that habit may still be in there. The reason habits take a lot of focus to change is because of the run without you being aware of what is happening. To change an automatic behavior, you must activate your awareness of your actions.

The reason most people give up on changing a habit is for this exact reason. They focus on the short term, and the thing does not change. If you want to break the habit, you must enter into the process with a long term focus. 

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Step 1 for Breaking The Habit: What Are Habits?

By definition: a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

There are two parts to this definition of habit. The first part is that you do it without much thought. If you do something now and then, it is not a habit. Habits become weaved into the fabric of your life because you repeat them so many times. The second part is the fact that habits can be hard to give up. When you have bad habits, this works against you, but it works for you when it comes to good habits.

Habits allow us to think about one thing less each day. Some people spend 20 minutes thinking of what to eat for breakfast. Those that depend on their habits know that they are eating oatmeal and three eggs. That provides consistent action and the ability to focus attention to something else.

The other key thing to know about habits is that they work in the background once they are set. A smoker does not need a reminder to smoke. If it's a habit, it happens without thinking. Habit change requires you to be self-aware.

Step 2 to Breaking The Habit: How Do Habits Work?

Charles Duhigg did the best job of explaining how habits work in his book The Power of Habit.  Habits form with these three steps:

1. Cue

2. Routine

3. Reward

The cue is also called the trigger. It's the thing that happens that may be out of your control that creates a desire for something. Once that desire is present, the action is what you consider to be the habit. The reason you are taking that action is because of the need created from the cue. You are in search of what that habit can provide. The result of a habit is a reward! If there were no reward, there would be no desire to take action. Here are some examples.


Cue - Feeling lonely

Routine - Smoking

Reward - Getting  to talk with other smokers

Biting Nails

Cue - Boredom

Routine - Biting nails

Reward - Having something to do

Drinking Water

Cue - Dry throat

Routine - Drinking water

Reward - Feeling hydrated

Working Out

Cue - Putting on running shoes

Routine - Working out

Reward - Feeling great about yourself

Checking Cell Phone

Cue - Bored

Routine - Checks phone

Reward - Something to look at

Step 3 to Breaking The Habit: How to Begin to Break The Habit

There are some things that you will never change. The first thing is the cue, and the second thing is the desire for the reward. What you can change is the middle section. The routine is the automatic action you go to for the queue. Now that you know how habits work, it is vital that you think of replacements for poor actions. Let's use checking your cell phone as the first example.

You know that at some point boredom will strike. When that time comes, you will need something to do. The problem is that you don't want it to be checking your phone. The first step in this process is becoming aware. Every time that boredom cue strikes, feel yourself go to reach for your phone. Being informed is half the battle because you will not want to. When we are aware of our bad habits, it often makes us feel so out of control of our life. That feeling alone is enough to change your behavior in the short run.

For long term change, that cue needs to connect to new behavior. It's hard to say what to replace the action with because it's very dependent on you. There are a bunch of things you can do.

Take 20 seconds to meditate and refocus

Use a stress ball to have something to do with your hands

Take a note pad out and start to write down ideas on your mind

The goal is to repeat your new chosen behavior then enough times to make that new routine your habit. There is more to the story here, though, There are some more things you can do to make this transition much easier on you. Setting up a successful morning routine can create the room you need for your habits. 

Step 4 to Breaking The Habit: Change of Identity

One of the best things you can do to help break the habit is to change your entire identity. Most people have a hard time changing their habit because they see that thing as a part of who they are. For example, most nail bitters see themselves as nail bitters. It's tough to change something that you see as being a part of you. When you detach yourself from that action though it's much easier to let it go.

The nail bitter needs to see themselves as someone who finds nail-biting gross.

A person who needs to lose weight needs to see themselves as a runner.

The person who wants to read daily needs to start calling themselves a reader.

Do you see the difference? You are no longer trying to do something anymore because it's who you are. It's weaved into the fabric of who you are. The basketball player takes jump shots every day because they see themselves as a baller. The person you see as a hard worker keeps working hard because its how they see themselves. Change how you see yourself, and you will change what you do.

Step 5 to Breaking The Habit: Setting Your Environment Up For Success

The second thing you can do to support your habit change is to build an environment for success. The person who loses weight begins to hang around people who are also losing weight or who are already fit. They grocery shop for high-quality food and throw out all the junk food in the house. They buy many water bottles and leave them all over their home and at work, so they have no excuse not to drink. The meal prep lunches for the week on Sunday's so that there is no temptation to eat out.

Successful people seem disciplined, but this is not true. Successful people are excellent at building environments that support their habits. Depending on will, power is not a smart move. If you want to check your phone less, put your phone in another room. When a cue comes to check it, you will not even be able to. That is how you hack your environment for success. It's humbling to do this because it reminds you how powerful a habit can be.

You have to think of ways that you can make the habits that you want to do more visible. Then you make the ones you don't want to do less visible. If you're going to play your guitar more then you need to put in front in center in the room you are in a lot. If you're going to play it less then you need to put in the basement under piles of clothes so that it is harder to get.

Step 6 to Breaking the Habit: Breaking The Habit by Tracking Your Habits

The next step in this process is tracking your habits with Habit Stacker. Think of working out without recording what you are doing, how will you know if you are making progress? What gets tracked gets measured, and the same is right with habits. Habit Stacker helps you improve your habits. You can enter in whatever habit you want to change, and every day you can say whether you did it or not.

If you try to keep a mental tally of your habits, it won't work. You will most likely overestimate how much you follow through with your behaviors. A habit tracker removes mind calculations by making it clear what you need to do.

The second goal of Habit Stacker is to make sure you're doing the basics. Everyone should be writing in a journal and reviewing their goals daily. These things are not optional when it comes to success. The journal allows you to get ideas out of your head each day, and reviewing goals helps to remind you of your reason why. You don't want to check your phone as much because you want to be more productive. The reason you want to be more productive is that you believe it's going to help you reach your goals. Then keep those goals front and center each day.

Step 7 to Breaking The Habit: Have an Accountability Partner

Habit Stacker does something cool for you. When you are adding habits, you can add a person to be an accountability partner. Meaning that if they don't get their habits done, you will get a notification about it. We change our behaviors when we know other people will find out what we are doing.

Having an accountability partner is the last piece to help support habit change. Sometimes we have habits that are so hard to break that we need someone who cares enough to challenge us. By having this process happen through the app means that you do not need to update others. They will be able to look and see how you are doing.

Step 8 to Breaking The Habit: Focus On The Next Year

The last way that you can help yourself is to have a long-term focus. The last thing you want to do is expect to see results. How many times do you see people workout for a week and start looking in the mirror, waiting to see results? Most habit will change how you feel before you see significant changes in your life. Bad habits take time to become, and it takes time for you to notice them destroying your life. Good habits take time to build, and they need even more time to produce results.

The reason most people give up on changing a habit is for this exact reason. They focus on the short term, and the thing does not change. If you want to break the habit, you must enter into the process with a long term focus. If you are starting to change a habit, check and see how things are after you work at it for a year. Think of it like this, if you would have decided to break the habit last year would be seeing results today. Get started on breaking the habit now and set up a successful morning routine. 

Ian Warner

About the author

I went from a broken leg to a 2012 Olympian. I have spent the last 15 years building positive habits as a track athlete and entrepreneur. I founded Habit Stacker and dedicated my life to helping people to develop winning habits. I have helped over 5,000 people...

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