7 Painless Steps for Breaking Your Bad Habits

Breaking bad habits is a lot like breaking up with your high school boyfriend.

You remember him right? The one with the drug problem who was always pressuring you to hang out all night at the 7-11 with him and his skater friends.


Well, I had a boyfriend like that, and I was magnetically pulled to him like a teenager to a Slurpee. I tried to break up with the loser at least a dozen times, but I kept coming back for more…just like a bad habit.

Thank goodness we don’t have to deal with moody teenage boys anymore (unless you have one for a son—eek!), but we do have plenty of other bad habits that are just as persistent.

Today I’m going to share 7 steps that will make your bad habits a distant memory.

Best of all, the process is completely painless! Unlike that ill-advised tattoo…

Step 1: Choose 1 Bad Habit

I know you’re Superwoman and you want to tackle a dozen bad habits at once, but you have a better chance of being successful if you focus on just one bad habit at a time.

Sometimes stopping one bad habit can fix many areas of your life. For example, not snacking after 7:00 at night could help you lose weight, sleep better, and give you extra time to enjoy a hobby.

Step 2: Acknowledge Where You’ve Been Successful in the Past

It’s easy to keep your bad habits if you think you’ll fail before you even begin. But you HAVE made positive changes in your life in the past! And you can do it again.

Pull out a notebook and write down all the instances in your life where you undid a bad behavior. I’m guessing you no longer suck your thumb, right? Start there and keep going! Nothing is too small to include on your list of successful behavior changes.

Step 3: Avoid Habit Limbo

When changing your habits, try to avoid a moderation approach where you do a little bit here and there but don’t fully commit to changing. I call this habit limbo.

If you want to cut back on smoking cigarettes, there is no middle ground. Only smoking a few times a week in moderation is still doing damage to your body and those around you.

Consistency is the key to eliminating bad habits. Consistently avoiding a bad habit will rewire your neural pathways so this “new normal” will become second nature.

Step 4: Add Something Good Into the Mix

One of my favorite ways of breaking a bad habit is to introduce a new good habit. My mind gets so excited about the new good habit that I’m distracted from the bad one.

Let’s say your bad habit is that you don’t have a place for your keys so you’re always losing them. You could put a pretty tray on the table by your front door to hold your keys (breaking the bad habit).

Then every time you drop your keys into the tray, you could look at your reflection in the hallway mirror and say an affirmation like “I am calm and organized” (adding a good habit).

The book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg suggests swapping out a bad routine for something good. For example, instead of following your normal routine and hitting up the office vending machine when your energy dives, try taking a walk outside to pep yourself up.

Step 5: Track of Your Progress

I’m such an office supply whore. Seriously, I’ll go into Office Depot for computer paper and come out with a stack of blank notebooks, a new desk chair, and a handful of Sharpies.

If you’re like me (and happiness guru Gretchen Rubin), you’re going to love the idea of tracking your habits on a calendar.

Grab a monthly calendar and put a checkmark on each day you avoid your bad habit. Also, draw a star on each day you do your good habit. It’s so fulfilling to see the boxes fill up with checks and stars. It’s a visual reminder of how far you’ve come.

Step 6: Create a Reward System

But there’s one more thing you should include on your habit tracking calendar. Rewards! You didn’t think I’d make you do all this work for nothing, did you?

Every day you avoid your bad habit and instead do your good habit, give yourself a reward. Choose rewards that are small, easy to obtain or do, and preferably inexpensive. Also, your reward must not be what you are trying to avoid.

For example, if you are trying to eat a vegetable at every meal for your good habit, your reward should not be a candy bar! Here’s another example: if you are trying to avoid gossiping (bad habit), your reward should not be spending time reading trashy gossip websites.

Step 7: Get Support When You Slip Up

Because you will. I don’t care how motivated you are or how much you love gold star stickers. When you mess up and fall back into your old bad habit, you’ll need support to build you back up. The last thing you want to do is mope around and give up entirely.

A good support system could be a friend who loves you no matter what, someone who’s overcome the same bad habit, or even a coach who can charge up your motivation again.


That’s it! Seven painless steps for breaking your bad habits.

You’re a completely new you…which is more than your loser ex-boyfriend can say.

This post focuses on Step 3 of the Life Editing Process, Add Good Habits and Routines. For more about life editing and what it can do for you, click here.

3 Simple Steps to Become a Productivity Superstar

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  1. Sarah @ Long Island Nerd on October 24, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    This is such an amazing post Sage! We all have bad habits whether we admit to it or not 🙂 I can definitely think of a couple I have right off the bat that I have been wanting to tackle and I think these 7 steps will be really helpful for me! I especially like the idea of recognizing past successes! This is such a great point. And I’m so with you, I’m an office supply whore too 😉

    • Sage Grayson on October 24, 2014 at 5:31 pm

      It’s the best kind of whore to be, Sarah. 🙂

  2. Jennifer Kennedy on October 22, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Ooh..this is a good one, Sage! I need to think about a bad habit that I want to break..ha….

    But, in the past setting reminders have been super helpful for me! So, for example, I was pretty bad at wearing my contacts for months instead of throwing them out after 2 weeks. I was kind of forced to create a good habit because I started having eye issues. Anyhoo…I added a reoccurring event to my calendar to remind myself to change my contact lenses.

    I also create other reminders such as setting out my workout clothes the night before to remind me to work out!!

    This is always an ongoing process, and I think your points are super helpful!!!! Thank you.

    • Sage Grayson on October 23, 2014 at 5:19 pm

      Thanks so much, Jennifer! That’s such a great idea to set reminders to help you break or make your habits. Thanks for sharing! 🙂