How to Quit an Unhealthy Habit

by Lance Ekum on · 0 comments

We all have them. From sneaking a fifth cookie after dinner to occasionally lighting up a cigarette, bad habits are easy to come by. But they also can prevent you from reaching your goals and jeopardize your mental and physical wellbeing.

So why do we still do them? And more importantly, how do we stop doing them?

Here is the science behind why we participate in unhealthy habits and how to kick them for good.

Why Do We Have Bad Habits?

The main answer to this question is stress and boredom. Bad habits are simply a coping mechanism to deal with those two issues. Everything from biting your nails to binge drinking on a Saturday night can be a response to either boredom or stress.

But this does not have to be the case. While it will take hard work, you can teach yourself new and healthy ways to deal with boredom and stress, which can take the place of your unhealthy habits.

Now that you know the top reasons behind a bad habit, let’s explore some ways to quit them.

Concretely Define the Habit or Behavior You Want to Change

Whether you want to quit smoking or start treating your significant other better, you need to start out by defining the concrete behavior you want to change or the habit you wish to quit. It’s critical to prime the habit-breaking process by thinking in terms of specific, actionable steps – like substituting out cigarettes for e-juice flavors or sending your partner a complimentary text once a day. It’s important to drill down on the concretes in order to formulate a plan of action.

Identify Triggers

Habits are typically situational, meaning that they’re tied to a particular location, time, person, or action. Going to a bar with friends may be enough of a trigger to have you binge drink just as seeing junk food laying on the counter will tempt you to eat a second candy bar. Or it may be the social anxiety sparked by a party you were invited to where you don’t know anybody. By knowing what your triggers are, you can push back and not have auto-pilot kick in, leading to indulging in your bad habits to cope with boredom or stress.

Dealing with the Triggers

Breaking a bad habit is about breaking a pattern. This means you have to do something about your triggers. Rather than go to a party where you don’t know anyone, invite a few of your close friends over for a game night. Proactively remove all junk food from your house.

Developing a Heathy Substitute

For most people, breaking an unhealthy habit isn’t about stopping but about substituting. This is where you come up with a game plan for going to a bar without drinking – like ordering a mocktail and talking to a close friend instead of ordering round after round of beer. Or, if you’re concerned about eating all of the cookies in your house, substitute them with a healthy and tasty snack instead, like fruit.

Accepting You’re Not Perfect

Progress is not linear. For every three steps you’ll take forward, you’re bound to take one step back. When it comes to breaking an unhealthy habit, you will mess up from time to time. We will take detours. It’s about accepting the fact that you’re not perfect – you’re human. Forgive yourself for these mishaps and realize that tomorrow is another day and another opportunity.

Committing to Change

Committing to change is vital. If you’re not ready and willing, you will not have the drive and perseverance to overcome a pesky habit over the long term. To find the motivation to overcome an unhealthy habit, you need to make a real commitment. To help with this, consider why you want to start improving your health. Do you want to have more energy to do the things you love? Do you want to feel better – both emotionally and physically?

It’s also important to understand that breaking a bad habit will be a long-term commitment. It won’t just happen overnight. You must have patience as you try to break free from a negative and unhealthy pattern.

Quitting an unhealthy habit will not happen right away. It will take a lot of elbow grease to change your patterns. Knowing your triggers and reasons behind your bad habits is a starting point for overcoming them. Be patient with yourself, develop a support system of friends and family, and learn how to replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones.


Lance writes stories from his heart, aiming to inspire and motivate, as you align more fully with YOUR true peak. When he's not here, you can find him hanging out with his family, riding a bike, or just generally acting goofy.   Sign up for the Thoughts from the Treehouse newsletter and get additional inspiration in your email inbox!
Lance Ekum
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