ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Help for Ending a Bad Habit

Updated on August 23, 2020
drmiddlebrook profile image

Former university professor of marketing and communications, Sallie is an independent publisher and marketing communications consultant.


Got a bad habit you think you might want to say goodbye to? Overeating, excessive drinking, speeding, biting nails, emotional shopping, and more, all are examples of behavior that can get out of control.

The first thing to remember is that all habits, good and bad, begin as thoughts. For this reason, I believe that what you say to yourself about your habits—in the final analysis—is the only thing any of us ever have use to accomplish any goal, including the goal of exchanging a bad habit for a good one.

Self-talk resides in our “thought realm.” As internal dialogue, if you train it well, it will serve as a sort of “thought guide,” there to help you convince yourself of the need for change. Tapping into your internal thought guide will help you manage and focus your mind on positive thoughts that will steer you toward visualizing and then engineering the changes you want to see in your life.

The bottom line? When it comes to making any change related to your own behavior? Is learning how to focus your self-talk. Why? Because focusing what you say to you, in a way that activates your inner drive, is the only way to be the engineer behind achieving your goals. And that is what this article is all about. We all engage in self-talk, constantly, whether or not we learn to use it in a positive, life-changing way. Something we can’t help but do, it is the way we process information, internally, as human beings. But, unless we learn how to bring focus and clarity to what we are saying, our inner dialogue can be little more than a gargled hodge-podge of words and images strung together—a hodge-podge of words that we don’t really give much present thought or afterthought to.

Talk You Into Changing Long-Time Bad Habits

Once you learn to focus your inner dialogue in a positive manner, and to pinpoint exactly what you want to accomplish, you can begin to put forth the effort it will take to achieve specific goals.

Make no mistake, it will undoubtedly take an enormous degree of self-discipline to break any lifelong bad habit. Still, self-talk, which is your inner dialogue, is ultimately the only way to get you to do anything.

Many experts say that you should tackle your bad habits one at a time, and that it usually takes from 14 to 21 days (and many believe it can take a month or even longer) to break a habit.

Identify Bad Behavior to Replace Bad Habits

When anyone attempts to break a bad habit, he or she is trying to replace unpleasant or unproductive behavior with more pleasant or more productive behavior. According to my research, some of the bad habits people cite often as ones they'd like to break include:

  • Smoking
  • Stress eating
  • Procrastinating/wasting time
  • Emotional spending and/or mismanaging money
  • Being a couch potato/watching too much television/lack of exercise
  • Neglecting health and nutrition
  • Working too much/not spending enough time at home or with family

These are just several habits, among many, many other things that people say they want to put an end to. Self-talk, in many instances, may be all that is needed to help bring an end to a bad habit that is simply annoying, while habits that have health-threatening consequences may also require professional help. Still, even if you seek and receive professional help, self-talk is still your best ally in helping you implement any recommended or prescribed positive behavioral change recommended by professionals. Remember, the work of professionals ends when negative self-talk begins.

Self-talk is a powerful tool for anyone desiring to end a specific behavior. The stages to consider for exchanging a bad habit for a good one can be seen as including awareness, desire, commitment/promise, action and repetition.

Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that health risks of vaping can be just as dangerous as those linked to cigarette smoking.
Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that health risks of vaping can be just as dangerous as those linked to cigarette smoking.

Admit Bad Behavior, Then Change It

The problem sometimes lies in the fact that although other people may consider something that you do habitually to be a bad habit, you may or may not be admitting to yourself, through your inner dialogue, that it is truly a bad habit. You may agree in your conversations with others that it is a bad habit or undesirable behavior, but within yourself, you may feel justified in engaging in the behavior. If you don’t truly agree that the habit is bad and that it needs to change, then there is almost no chance that you will be able to talk yourself into changing the behavior.

For this reason, the awareness stage is where is you will need to do enough soul-searching to discover if you truly see your habit as others may see it, and if it is something you truly want or need to change. This is also the stage where you need to stop telling yourself that you can’t change this habit. If it is a bad habit, it is bad for a reason. Consider the consequences. What is it costing you to keep engaging in this behavior? If the consequences are negative for your health, your well being, or your close relationships with others, then this habit is probably something you want or need to change. Becoming more aware of what the habit is costing you (consider financial, physical/health, and/or social costs) and how you truly feel about its costs will help you decide whether or not it is something you can commit to changing.

We all need our mobile phones, but using them or any device as your primary means of socializing can become a bad habit if used excessively to replace human interaction.
We all need our mobile phones, but using them or any device as your primary means of socializing can become a bad habit if used excessively to replace human interaction. | Source

Next, Desire to Change Bad Habits

After the awareness stage comes desire; the stage where you will need to use your inner dialogue to question yourself about your desire and motivation to change the behavior in question. Inner dialogue can be very helpful at this stage because no one can motivate you better than you. In fact, other people can inspire you and give you good reasons to become motivated, but the drive to achieve change can only be found within you.

At this stage, you have already acknowledged the bad habit and its negative consequences in your life, and you are keenly aware that you need to change your behavior. Now, you will need to dig deep inside to find the inner drive that is required to actually change it. After all, you allowed this behavior to become a habit because it gives you some type of reward. If it did not provide a reward, you would not have kept it around long enough for it to become a habit. Therefore, your motivation to change will be based on the reward you must believe you will get from ending or changing the behavior:

  • Perhaps not changing your behavior will keep you from doing something else that you truly want to do.
  • Maybe your health, or the health of your loved one, will continue to deteriorate if you do not change your behavior.

Many smokers, For example, have come to realize that smoking indoors, around children, other family members, and even pets, can cause adverse health effects for the non-smoking members of the household, and that that can lead to higher medical bills. No matter how much the smoker loves smoking indoors, the idea of causing those they love to suffer, and causing the family to face higher medical costs, can become great motivation to smoke outside, or to stop smoking altogether. And, even though makers of e-cigarettes (those things designed to help cigarette smokers stop smoking) claim that e-cigarette vapor is nicotine-free, many of these products contain nicotine and other toxic, potentially harmful substances.

If cigarette smoking or vaping is the bad habit you need to change, it will help at the desire stage to use a journal to develop an overview of your habit. If you use it to document times when you engage in your habit, writing in your journal will become part of the foundation for changing your behavior. Then, through your inner dialogue, you will be able to determine and then make note of how much time, on a daily basis, you are devoting to documenting and to changing the habit you want to change.

While for many it is seen as "harmless fun," any type of gambling can not only become a bad habit, it can be accompanied by a disastrous "mismanagement" of finances.
While for many it is seen as "harmless fun," any type of gambling can not only become a bad habit, it can be accompanied by a disastrous "mismanagement" of finances. | Source

Again, think and journal about the financial price tag of your habit. What is the health cost of it? The social cost of it? What has this habit kept you from doing that you would like to do? What will you do with your time once you get rid of this habit? What benefits (try to think of from five to ten main benefits) will you receive after this habit is no longer part of your life?

The desire stage is also a good time to focus your inner dialogue on talk about the kinds of things you might encounter on the road to change that might cause you to revert to your old behavior. What are some of the possible roadblocks you could face along the way? Try to think of as many as you can, and jot down any potential obstacle that could come between you and change. Next, think of and write down something you might do to combat each and every potential obstacle you listed.

Emotional spending and impulse buying can be hard habits to break, and, if you're not careful, can cause you to go broke.
Emotional spending and impulse buying can be hard habits to break, and, if you're not careful, can cause you to go broke. | Source

You Must Commit to Changing Bad Habits

Once you discover your motivation, the next stage in the behavior-change process involves actually committing to yourself to make the change. This is the stage where you will promise yourself that you can and will dedicate your time and your sincere efforts to making the difficult changes in your lifestyle you will have to make in order to eradicate the undesired behavior.

In this commitment/promise stage, you must stop saying, “I can’t stop doing this” and you must begin believing and saying “I can stop doing this.” Instead of thinking, “why do I need to stop doing this?” you should now be asking yourself “how am I going to stop doing this?”

The commitment/promise stage is also where you must constantly remind yourself that who you are today is not based on who you were yesterday. Just because you did not change your behavior yesterday does not mean you cannot change it today. You can give yourself permission to reinvent yourself, today.

You can and should allow your inner voice to tell you how changing this habit now will improve your life. Instead of being someone who smokes or drinks too much, you can start today being someone who once smoked, or who once drank too much. This type of positive, goal-affirming self-talk will help you begin to see yourself differently—as someone capable of leaving the past behind, someone wise enough to use today to start making the changes you want to make a part of your life tomorrow, and forever.

Driving too fast is also something that, habit-forming, and dangerous, can be conquered using the approach discussed in this article.
Driving too fast is also something that, habit-forming, and dangerous, can be conquered using the approach discussed in this article.

Changing Bad Habits Takes Action Steps

Now it is time to journal your plan of action. Begin talking to yourself about what specific steps you will take to end your bad habit, and to begin your new one. Take baby steps to begin by setting easily achievable goals that you know you will be able to reach. Every time you reach a goal, reward yourself with a gold star in your journal. Raise the bar once you begin to feel strong enough to reach an even higher goal.

"Action" Equals Activities!

In addition to journaling daily, it can also help a lot to keep a daily calendar to track progress you make toward your goal. For example, if you've decided to stop being a couch potato, you could document the steps you will take to stop watching so much television, or living your life connected to social media on your mobile phone, or spending too much time playing video games.

You might want to develop a plan to tackle this problem in two parts. To stop watching so much television, you might begin substituting reading books instead. To reach this goal, if you prefer new technology to old, you could buy an eReader, so that you can take your books with you easily, wherever you go. To begin, you might decide to trade one hour of watching television for one hour of book reading, every day. In addition, you might consider taking a daily walk in a nearby park. You could even plan what time of day you will turn off the TV and pick up your book, or what day/time of day you will go to the park or to the gym. You could even set goals for yourself in terms of how many books you will try to read in a month’s time, or how many miles you will walk every day or every week.

Act If/When You Backslide into Your Old Behavior . . .

After setting goals and deciding on specific action steps, if you should happen to backslide into your old and undesired behavior, don’t worry about it, and don’t allow your self-talk to become negative as a result. In other words, don’t beat yourself up over it, and don’t allow the frustration of backsliding to cause you to abandon your mission. Instead, tell yourself that you had a temporary setback and then work hard to get back to the desired behavior. Remember, getting back on track is an action step too.Be sure to make note of everything in your journal, and, using positive self-talk, discuss what was going on in your life when you reverted to your bad habit.

Act by Being Kind to Yourself . . .

Speak kind words to you and about you through your inner dialogue. Talk things through, honestly, kindly, and considerately with yourself. Doing so will help reduce stress as you seek to uncover possible influencing situations, moods, or interactions with others that might, somehow, be triggers for the return to your old behavior.

Extreme nail biting is a bad habit that this article's author conquered. Always keeping nails painted ended the desire to bite/chew them went away, within one month.
Extreme nail biting is a bad habit that this article's author conquered. Always keeping nails painted ended the desire to bite/chew them went away, within one month.

Act by Using Your Journal

Once you discover possible triggers, make up your mind that if/when these things reoccur, go back to your list of potential roadblocks that you developed and wrote about in the desire stage. Check to see if you have already listed a possible solution. If so, implement it; if not, be sure to add the new trigger to your list of obstacles, and then brainstorm possible solutions. Next, remember to review your journal in its entirety, as much as possible. This is how you will get to know your thoughts and feelings, and knowing them will help bring clarity of mind, enabling you to focus on solutions.

Review your promise statement, and your plan of action. Make any needed adjustments to your action plan to accommodate handling new triggers you may have discovered. Constantly remind yourself to be consistent and repetitive in efforts that can help you dump your old habit and adopt a new one.

Act Through Repetition of Positive Behavior

I was once a "nail biter" of renown. In fact, many of my old friends from high school would be shocked to know that these days, while many women are paying a lot of money to nail salons to have beautiful, flawless looking nails, mine are completely real, and are ultra strong and attractive. Why? Because several years ago I conquered the bad habit of nail biting. I began by admitting how much I wanted to stop, then I talked myself through stopping the behavior. I bought some nail polish, kept my ragged nails painted at all times to discourage biting, and I repainted them once the paint wore off naturally. The very act of painting them helped to underscore for me that I truly desired to have beautiful nails. Within a month's time, I changed my lifelong bad habit into a good habit, and I'm happy to report that many years later I don't have even the slightest desire to revert to my old behavior. Talking to me, getting me to paint my nails and to engage in the repetitive behavior of keeping them freshly painted was key to ending my bad habit.

After you get your plan down for changing your bad habit, act on it, over and over again, until your old bad behavior is nothing more than a memory.

© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)