Habits are part of everyday life. Certain habits are considered beneficial, while some may not be. Some good habits may include preparing the weekly meal plan every weekend or turning the lights off when leaving a room. But how do you unlearn bad habits?

Some bad habits may consist of nail-biting or spending too much money on gadgets. Habits form through repeated action. Thus, unlearning it may be very challenging. But, breaking bad habits is possible by first understanding habit formation.

What Are Habits?

There are three theories on how new habits are developed. Habit formation is summarized using the 3Rs: reminder, routine, and reward.


A reminder is considered a cue, a trigger, or conscious behavior. An example of a reminder could be your feelings, such as sadness or nervousness. Another example would be seeing a toilet and flushing it after use.


A routine is considered a behavior that is linked to triggers. For instance, the reminder “flushing the toilet” tells you to wash your hands after. When you constantly do something repeatedly, the behavior becomes a routine.


How can you maintain a routine? Using a reward as a motivational tool to make a new behavior stick may be successful. When you do something enjoyable or something that relieves stress, your brain releases dopamine. When this pleasure hormone is released, you have the desire to do the behavior again.

List of Common Bad Habits

Here is a list of common bad habits. You may find a certain habit of yours on this list that you may consider changing.

Habit 1: Always Late

This is a very common bad habit for many. Some may be running late unintentionally, but some may do it intentionally. Whatever the reason for your being consistently late, it boils down to the fact that you may lack time-management skills.

So, how do you break this habit? You may first look at your daily schedule in the morning. You may check which activities may take so much of your time. Do you find yourself switching your phone’s wake-up alarm to snooze every time it rings; or, are you taking so much time in the shower? 

Whatever activity it may be, time yourself to check how long it takes for you to do it. The trick you may use to break this habit is: If you need more time, you may try to wake up a lot earlier than usual. This will also give you enough time in cases of emergencies or unexpected delays.

Also, be gracious enough to inform your supervisor that you may be running in late. If you make repeated calls regarding this issue, you may feel ashamed and force yourself to be more punctual. 

Habit 2: Procrastination

Procrastination is the habit of working on something at the last minute while putting yourself under too much pressure. Procrastination is a strategy used by most people to manage their anxiety about completing a task.

You may break this habit by first recognizing that you are a procrastinator. When you are struggling to change this particular behavior, you may ask for help from a friend to cheer you on.

You may make a list of the tasks you have to accomplish. 

You may also make a list of consequences. A consequence that you may do is to assign a monetary value to a particular task. Whenever you fail to accomplish your task on time, the money may go to an organization you disapprove of. This may motivate you to work on the dot.

Habit 3: Disorganization

Some people find mess or clutter very stimulating. This may remind them that there is still work to be done. The clutter may, at some point, be an effective visual reminder for you. However, the mess may also backfire on you. You may find yourself wasting time looking for things under piles of mess. The mess may eventually cause you anxiety.

So, how to break this habit? You may use visually stimulating containers to store your stuff. This may motivate you to keep everything organized. You have to sort out the pieces that need to stay and those that need to be recycled or sold at a garage sale.

Habit 4: Smacking Gum

Smacking gum is an oral fixation that you do when you may feel nervous or anxious. You may easily break this habit by switching to hard candy. You may ask for help from your friends to call your attention whenever you keep smacking. You may eventually feel embarrassed and stop smacking when you are constantly reminded to stop.

Habit 5: Slouching

What are the possible reasons you developed slouching? Growing up, you may have been self-conscious; or, you are just simply tired. Whatever the reason may be, it made you slouch. If you want to get over this habit, you may take dance lessons like ballet to improve posture.

You may also do Pilates or yoga to strengthen your abdominal core and upper-back muscles. You may also do simple physical exercises like shoulder rotations. Doing physical activity may help you lose weight; it may help combat mental and physical fatigue, which may cause slouching.

Habit 6: Phone Obsessions

Smartphones are designed not only to make your life better and easier. They are also designed to entertain you and steal your attention. Owning a phone is considered of great importance in this day and age. 

When does having a phone troublesome? Owning a phone may be problematic when you begin to be fixated or obsessed with it. You may start to develop irrational anxiety when you cannot check your phone for messages, news or use the internet for surfing and social media.

Your phone may have caused you to feel terrified when you miss out on the latest news and happenings online. You have become a victim of endless information and entertainment. Because of your obsession, you forget to live in the present moment, make physical connections, and just be yourself.

So, what can you do about this one habit? Giving up your phone is not an option. Maybe the best way to control your habit is to set a screen time schedule for leisure. You may put your phone away during mealtime. You may also switch off the notification alarm of specific applications.  

Habit 7: Nail Biting

You may get into the habit of nail-biting due to stress or anxiety. You may feel comforted when you do this. The best way to beat this habit is by using a stress ball when you feel anxious or stressed out.

It may also be good for you to keep your nails short and well-filed so you have nothing to bite on. Aside from cutting it short, you may also put on nail polish, so the bitter taste may remind you that you need to stop biting.

Habit 8: Whining

Whining may be common among kids. But you are no longer a kid, and your whining may sound annoying to most people. Whining happens when you are not confident enough to ask for something.

You are now an adult, and complaining or whining will not get you anywhere. Not only are you embarrassing yourself, but you are also putting those around you in shame. Instead of whining, and grumping, try your best to approach the matter by being more polite. For instance, if you find yourself in a restaurant seated beside a family with a loud baby, you may ask to be reseated elsewhere.

Habit 9: Gossiping

Gossiping allows you to feel good about yourself by focusing on the flaws of others and exposing these. You gossip, so you may be able to vent out your feelings, or you and your friends have something to talk about. You may believe that you are not good enough when you gossip out of habit.

When gossiping is already a habit, it may be hard to recognize that you are already gossiping. It will help if you practice being more mindful of what goes into all your conversations.

It may be challenging, but you should try to be more conscious and sensitive not to talk about other people because you can never know if they are ear-shots away. Instead, talk about more meaningful topics like current events, music, or sports.

Gossiping will only make you look bad. Other people may look at you as a person not worth sharing secrets with. It would be best to avoid gossiping to avoid losing friends or professional connections.

Habit 10: Perfectionism

You are not born to be a perfectionist. Most likely, your desire for perfection came from observing the people around you, such as your parents. You may have had perfectionist parents who expected so much from you growing up. Your mind has conditioned you to do everything with perfection.

If you want to break this habit, you have to shake off a bit and relax. You may make a list of your daily activities and set a time limit for each. You may find yourself unable to accomplish all the tasks you have written down. This may weigh you down. Take this as a form of practice. It will help if you practice not being controlling and perfect.

Also, for fun, you may do something you hate or are not good at. You may join an art class even if you can only draw stick figures. You may also try a new board game. You don’t have to keep score; you just have to enjoy it. Relieve yourself from the pressure of being perfect because nobody is perfect.

Good habits vs Bad Habits (Image from 123RF)

Tips on Breaking Bad Habits

Recognize the Triggers

As stated above, having triggers is the first step in developing toxic habits. To move forward, recognizing the triggers that cause your habitual behaviors is essential. You have to be patient to track your triggers and harmful habits. To see a pattern, you may need a few days to write down your triggers and bad behaviors. It would help if you took note of the following:

  1. Where does your habit often happen?
  2. Are there other people present when your bad habits occur?
  3. Does your habit behavior happen after a particular incident? At what time?
  4. What are your feelings when your bad habits happen?

You may look at the scenario where you habitually stay up late until past midnight. You try to track your behavior to see a possible pattern. After doing this for days, you have come to realize that you may tend to stay up late when you watch TV right after dinner.

When you try reading a back or taking an evening stroll around your house after dinner, you notice that you tend to sleep earlier. When you intentionally try to remove the trigger, such as watching TV, you find it hard to continue with your habit of staying up very late.

Understand the Reason Why You Want to Change

Have you tried to seriously ask yourself why you want to stop a bad habit? Studies suggest that it may be easier for you to change your bad habits when the change is beneficial for you.

It is best to write down why you want to break a particularly bad habit. You may also write down the possible benefits arising from this change.

Trying to change for the better may be challenging. You may easily be tempted not to pursue it. To help motivate you, you may write down your goal and spread it around your house to serve as a reminder. You can post on your fridge, bathroom mirror, or inside your bedroom.

You and a Friend Can Break It Together

Encourage your friend to join you to break bad habits. Doing it with someone may make this challenge a lot easier. You can be each other’s powerful motivator. You can both push each other up when quitting seems easier to do.

If you don’t have a friend who has a bad habit to break, you can talk to them and ask for their support. Talk to a friend that you trust. They can encourage you when you feel discouraged or doubtful about your desire to change. They can also be your alarm clock, reminding you during times when you may be sliding back to your old habit.

Practice Mindfulness

Being mindful is when you practice observing your impulses concerning your habits without judging or reacting to them. Being mindful may help you notice how your habits affect your daily life. Because of this, you begin to distinguish the effects on yourself. Thus, you are driven by the desire to change your bad habits to better ones.

Replacing Your Habit With Something Different 

Trying to break bad habits in one blow may be challenging to maintain. Why not try to change a bad habit instead of ditching it? For example, you always smoke a cigarette during work breaks. Instead of wanting to stop smoking totally, you may gradually do it by munching on dried fruit or nuts. 

You can have these as an alternative to keep your mouth busy while working on how to quit smoking. If you continue this change, this becomes a new routine for you. You may no longer have the urge to go back to your old habit.

Have Self-Reminders

If you plan on changing your bad habits, it is best to leave yourself visual reminders wherever you are. You may use stickers or colorful sticky notes. If you also find yourself constantly forgetting to close your bedroom door, you may put a note on your door reminding you to always close it.

If you are a more tech-savvy person, you may opt to use your Smartphone for reminders. You may also add a motivating message for yourself along with the alarm.

Can Professional Treatment Help to Break Bad Habits?

Some bad habits may be possible to change when effective tricks and techniques are used. Of course, not all habits are that simple and easy to get over. Some habits may be deeply ingrained and may take years to get over. They may need the professional help of a psychiatrist, psychologist, or cognitive therapist. 

It’s Time to Get Rid of Your Bad Habit

Unlearning bad habits doesn’t happen overnight. It is a learning process, and you need to pack a lot of self-control, patience, and resilience to break it. You should focus on your journey instead of the outcome. If you keep on focusing on the bad habit alone, you may not be able to see so much progress. You may even feel frustrated that you are not improving.

Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) can be your companion in this journey. KCC can partner you with the right therapist or counselor who will listen and guide you on this journey towards self-improvement. KCC will cheer you on until you can form a new habit.

Break your bad habit slowly. Withdraw from your bad habits at a steady and consistent pace. As long as you have a goal, you will surely get where you want to be. 

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