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How to Break Bad Habits

By: Eileen Guo

We all have a bad habit or two we could stand to lose, but habits are hard to break. Whether your bad habit is procrastinating, overspending, swearing, or any other one you want to change, here are a few tips to break free of negative behavior patterns.

  • Understand what’s triggering these bad habits
    • Understanding how we make decisions is the key to conquering all kinds of bad habits, including money ones. Often, we repeat bad habits without even realizing we’re doing them. There are five cues that usually contribute to every bad habit, though, and being aware of them can help us learn what’s behind those behaviors. 
  • Do a review when you have a bad habit relapse
    • Chances are you’re going to have bad days. Setbacks are normal and we should expect them. Have a plan to get back on track and use the relapse as a way to understand what happened and how you can avoid it next time.
  • Change your environment
    • Over time, if you do the same behaviors in the same place, your surroundings can become a trigger —sometimes very subtle to notice. If you go on smoke breaks in your office’s parking lot, the parking lot itself can become a cue to smoke. Switch up your surrounds in even the smallest way. The 20-Second Rule can help too: Make bad habits take 20 seconds longer to start. For example, move junk food to the back of the pantry. 
  • Set reminders
    • Even with the best intentions, we fall into bad habits when our willpower fades. You might promise only to have two drinks when going out with friends, for example, but forget that promise completely as soon as you step into the bar. Try setting up reminders in a calendar for yourself for your weakest moments. 
  • Be patient
    • Be patient with yourself and instead of making dramatic adjustments, try focusing on one habit and the smallest steps you can take to “trick your inner caveman.” With food and dieting, for example, small changes like reducing your sugar intake by one pack or switching cream in your coffee to low-fat milk can make a big difference in the long run.

About Eileen Guo

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