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5 Steps to Change a Habit

Updated on January 26, 2017

How a Habit Forms

Have you ever uttered this words to yourself? “I can’t stop my bad habits no matter what I do.” Well congratulations, you are normal. Every person has behaviors, emotions or thoughts they do automatically. Habits can become so comfortable even though they are overwhelming. People become so locked into habits even when the habits seem to over take them or become destructive.

The longer you practice a action, feeling, or thought the more it becomes normal and turns into a habit even though it is not comfortable or positive.

Everyone wants or desires to change a habit that is uncomfortable or destructive. We want to change how we think, where we live, how we feel, who we are, where we work, or how much money we have.

So what is stopping us from changing a habit that is not good for us?

Believe it or not it may be our emotional attachment to our habits that stand in our way of positive change. We all have habits. Some habits are good and are referred to as disciplines. Some habits are bad and they are called addictions. But all habits are just repetitive patterns we accept and hold onto.

A lot of times when we can't let go of our habits, we feel that our habits help us to function and deal with positive as well as negative life situations. The problem is once we locked into a habit or sets of habits, our denial about the destructiveness sets in and at that point, our repetitive behavior patterns are almost impossible to change.

So if the behaviors, feelings or thoughts are not productive to ourselves and our lives, why do we continue to repeat them?

The difficulty with habits is that they form readily and sometimes subconsciously without our knowledge. Whether the habit is good or bad. For many people a habit mean safety, consistency and stability.On the other hand the thought of changing a habit feels risky, unsafe and vulnerable.

Developing a new habit is not an easy, Sometimes the change is a confusing and uncomfortable process. All of us tend to get stuck in certain comfort zones even if it is uncomfortable, doesn't serve us. Comfort zones can also be painful and restricting. Yet we continue to practice them. But while staying in an uncomfortable comfort zone it doesn't stop us from wanting change.

The number one difficulty with changing or eliminating a habit is the process of positive change is always a fearful and uncomfortable.

The second difficulty is that the majority of people are neither knowledgeable nor skillful in the art of changing old habits or implanting a new habits.

Definition of a Habit

The first thing you need to know is in order to interrupt an old destructive habit you must have to identify what the habit specifically is that is troublesome.

Simply a habit is something you repeat automatically without any effort, being conscious of it or intent of why you repeat it. A habit is an attitude, behavior, belief, emotion, thought, or substance you repeat over and over again until you perform it without thinking, and it becomes automatic, second nature.

Habit formation is produced by a continuous duplication of a reaction to a specific situational trigger or to a stimuli. A habit can become so deeply ingrained in your subconscious mind that executing the habit is effortless and routine.

5 Steps to change a habit

First step in changing an destructive habit is to recognize it. Recognizing acknowledges that the habit no longer has any power or influence over you anymore. It ceases to be unknown. After recognizing that the habit does not serve you, over time it becomes destructive and later it become toxic. Once a habit becomes destructive or toxic that is usually when you decide it needs to be eliminated. You also need to be willing to change it. within this step you need to make the decision if you are ready to put in the effort to change it and commit to the work.

The second step is to identify why you are holding on to the habit even though the habit is detrimental and not serving you at all. Identifying how uncomfortable the habit has become or maybe even destructive or toxic to yourself and your life.

Sometimes if you have a destructive habit which has not impacted your life enough your desire to change the habit your desire for change probably will not materialize. Indecisiveness may be a fear of moving out of a comfort zone. Without any negative impact you will probably continue to repeat the same habit over and over again.

Third step is the hardest. It is the step of honesty.

To help you decision making. Ask yourself these questions.

Do you have the desire and willingness to stop the destructive or toxic habit?

Are you willing to muster up the energy and strength to break the bad habit and interject an new positive habit?

As your desire to change increases then the power of the habit loses being comfortable, influential and safe. For example when a person has a substance habit. Once the person recognizes the substance is toxic to him or her the use of the substance is never the same again. Cravings reduce, awareness increases, consequences are more readily conscious and denial begins to slip away. Unfortunately with your defensive mechanisms are less, pain and confusion enters

Fourth step is to determine what new specific new habit you would like to replace the destructive habit that you want to eliminated. So you need to create an action plan that will give you a step by step procedure for how to change. Last part is to follow through. Repetitive practice of the new habit is the secret to success and implanting a new habit to replace the old one.

Fifth step is to set up support system to encourage you to be accountable to your action plan. A support system will help and inspire you to stick to your action plan. Everyone needs a coach or cheerleader supporting you and takes away your excuses. Don’t keep your plan a secret and attempt to do everything alone. It take a community to break a habit.

Quality verses Quantity

The common view about forming a new habit is based on quality. Nothing can be further from the truth. Forming a new habit is about, as Nike says, “just doing it.” Focusing on quality can cause you to go into the wrong direction. Focusing on quality can get you into an issue of “doing the desired habit good enough”. Quality can halt you from accomplishing what you want because you begin to judging and analyzing your performance or what you are doing right or wrong. Then you stop the process because you become disappointed. Therefore you think you can’t do it “right” so you abandon what you want to change and go back to what was comfortable, the old habit.

Rather you should focus on quantity. Quantity should be a higher priority than quality. Quantity leads in time to higher quality. The shorter route to forming a habit is by maximizing quantity through repetition. Performing the desired habit consistently through regular and constant practice will help to achieved discipline and desired new habit. Over time with daily conscious practice a new habit can be embedded between 60 to 90 days. Focusing on quantity results in a higher level of skill mastery and performance.

What does research say about developing a new habit?

1. Practicing a positive action, behavior, belief, emotion, reaction or thought over and over again becomes an automatic habit after 66 days.

2. The subconscious mind rebels against big changes. You can persuade your subconscious mind through small steps over time.

3. The more you practice something the more comfortable and natural it will become to you.

So to form, install and become comfortable with a new habit, it is not how well you do an action, it is how many you times you do it day after day for an extended period. Most importantly be very conscious and focused with strong intent.

After Thoughts

Changing a habit that is destructive or toxic is possible.Don't hang on to behaviors, emotions, substances or thoughts that don't enhance yourself or your life.

Once you know the steps you can take away the control, influence or power you think it has. Regain your power over bad habits and make your life productive and positive.


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    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      This is excellent advice! I have used this method to develop positive habits in my own life, and it has been very successful. I like the part that says not to concentrate on "quality" but rather on "quantity." I know people who have done just the opposite, and abandoned the new habit before it was established due to frustration and disappointment, as they could not live up to their own unrealistic expectations.

    • Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

      Bill Tollefson 2 years ago from Southwest Florida


      Thank you for your comments.

      I like your important comment on unrealistic expectations. You are right on point.

      To accomplish a new habit you need to practice not get caught up in "how well" you are doing an action.

    • KoraleeP profile image

      Koralee Phillips 2 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada

      Excellent advice! The best step for me is consistency. It can be so easy to think you should give up when you miss your habit changing activity for a day.

      About six weeks ago I started a new habit, of walking Sierra (a dog) for 30 minutes a day. So far I've only missed about 2 days. But, perhaps I'm cheating with this habit because she's a little pushy about going for the walk lol.

      I recently heard of the term accountability partner when I signed up to Primoz Bozic's blog about productivity. That's a really great idea, although I still haven't done it lol.

      But, I have a question. I've always heard it takes 21 - 28 days to change a habit, but am I confusing it with starting a habit?

    • KoraleeP profile image

      Koralee Phillips 2 years ago from Vernon British Columbia Canada

      Hey, I just realized I inadvertently lied...I do have an accountability partner (Sierra the dog), which makes me realize how useful an accountability partner is even more. I should focus on that, especially since I'm breaking into internet marketing for myself, not doing all the work for others.

    • Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

      Bill Tollefson 2 years ago from Southwest Florida


      Thank you for reading this HUB and your comments.

      To form a habit is takes over thirty days of doing something everyday to get embedded in your mind and probably another 30 days to embed the behavior pattern.

      With dogs they form a routine very fast.

      Thanks again and I hope you follow me. Blessings

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