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How to Break Bad Habits in 5 Steps

stop-sign-habitsby Michelle P. Maidenberg, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Breaking bad habits can be a frustrating process. Use these five simple steps as a guideline, and keep at it. You can do it!

  1. Acknowledge your habit, and commit to personal growth.
    Most people have difficulty admitting their habit is a problem and say they can stop any time. Decide to get to know yourself better and acknowledge your struggle.
  2. Commit to two months, and start small.
    Change does not happen overnight! You may fall off the wagon, but keep your head high and try again. Make clear, identifiable, realistic goals so you don’t set yourself up for disappointment and failure.
  3. Identify triggers.
    For example, if you bite your nails in a new social situation, be hypersensitive that you’re at high risk then, and take the necessary precautions to avoid or substitute your habit.
  4. newsletter-graphicFind a substitute—replace your loss.
    Your habit fulfills needs. If you used caffeine to make you feel awake and energized, replace it by committing to getting more sleep and exercising, which serves the same purpose and is more productive.
  5. Get support.
    You deserve it! Examples include individual and/or group therapy, writing in a journal, speaking with a person you trust, and finding someone with the same habit who could join you on the quest to break it.

is president and clinical director of Westchester Group Works, a group therapy provider in White Plains, N.Y.


Last updated and/or approved: January 2011.
Original article appeared in January/February 2008 former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
Comments (3)add comment
I did just that to stop smoking
written by Alston , January 29, 2011

at the age of 20 I found out that not everything I liked was good for me. That was realizing the problem. I started by periods of 24 to 48 hours without smoking to gain self esteem, and eventually quit for good. Sounds easy but it demands a supportive environment.
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Re: Brilliantly, effectively simple steps
written by Leigh Ann , January 20, 2011

Thank you, Judy. I'm glad you liked it.

Leigh Ann Otte
Managing Editor,

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Brilliantly, effectively simple steps
written by Judy Rodman , January 19, 2011

Brilliantly and effectively simple steps... to really getting change made. Thank you so much!
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