Break a Bad Habit Checklist

Jan 6, 2017 | Blog

Each year, millions of Americans wake up on January 1st ready to make a major change in their lives. Among the most common New Year’s resolutions each year are quitting smoking, losing weight and saving money. But there’s one thing all those goals all have in common: habits. Whether directly or indirectly, succeeding at your New Year’s resolution requires either ending a bad habit, starting a good one, or more likely—a combination of both.

Statistics on keeping New Year’s resolutions are pretty grim—anywhere from 80-92 percent of people fail. But there’s good news! If you want to keep your 2017 resolutions, desire isn’t enough—you need to have a plan. We pored over advice and findings from therapists, trainers, and researchers to put together a checklist for meeting your goals this year. Working your way through the steps at your own pace will help to make the change easier… and permanent.

Step 1: Be Honest With Yourself

Change is hard, but change that starts within you is especially hard. It will be uncomfortable and overwhelming. It will make you sad and angry at times. Before you commit to a New Year’s resolution, it’s important to ask yourself: Am I really ready to break this bad habit? If you feel like you’re doing it because you should, not because you want to, the answer to that question is no. Wait until you’re really ready. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. If you’re really ready to make the change, move onto the next step.

Step 2: Explore Your Bad Habit

We wouldn’t develop habits if they didn’t benefit us in some way. Even habits that are ultimately bad for us offer rewards. If you’re a smoker, the benefits might be relaxation, or a mid-day break from work. If you spend more money than you make, think about what you’re buying and why. How do your purchases make you feel? Get a notebook that you can dedicate to your bad habit, and spend a week writing down everything related to your habit—what triggers you? What factors influence whether you give in or abstain? And how do you feel about your bad habit? Then, make a list of all of the pros and cons of your bad habit. Once you understand how your bad habit works and is affecting you, you’ll be in a better position to overcome it.

Step 3: Clearly Define Your Goals

“Quit smoking,” “eat less junk food” and “spend less” are great goals to have, but not-so-great goals to achieve. Why? Because they aren’t clearly defined. Consider these instead:

  • Smoke one less cigarette each day until I get to zero, and then maintain it.
  • Remove all junk food from the house.
  • Buy only single servings of junk food, 1-2 times per week.
  • Download a coupon app and only buy non-essentials when I have a coupon for them.

See the difference? The second set of goals are not only doable, but measurable. Write down your ultimate goal in your notebook, and then break it into 5-7 measurable tasks that you can achieve. Don’t be afraid to start small—you have a whole year ahead of you!

4. Replace Your Bad Habit with a Good Habit

The only way you’ll be able to abstain from a bad habit is by doing something else instead. Maybe you want to quit smoking and also eat more vegetables? Trying eating a carrot stick every time you want a cigarette. Or go for a walk instead of hitting the snack machine at work. Try meditating instead of going shopping. If you create an alternative for your bad habit, you won’t have to think about it. Over time, it will become automatic. Just make sure that the replacement habit is something that makes you feel good. If it feels like a chore, you won’t be able to maintain it.

5. Establish Accountability

For many of us, answering to ourselves isn’t a strong enough motivator for breaking a bad habit. If it was, we would have quit a long time ago! Find an accountability buddy who you can check in with on a regular basis, or a support group. Join or start a Facebook group devoted to overcoming your bad habit. At the very least, tell your loved ones that you’re quitting your bad habit, and that you’re open to being nagged if they see you backsliding.

6. Reward Yourself for Successes (But Don’t Sabotage Yourself in the Process)

When you achieve one of your smaller goals, reward yourself! Just make sure that the reward doesn’t reinforce your bad habit—if you’re trying to eat more healthfully, a slice of pie would be a bad choice for a reward. A better choice might be splurging on a new outfit to show off your weight loss, or getting a spa treatment.

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