Changing habits you’ve had for years can be hard — but not impossible.
We all have those habits we wish we didn’t, but just can’t seem to break.
You might think you spend too much time on social media or playing games, or that your time streaming videos might be better spent reading that classic novel you’ve always wanted to try.
Though you’ve tried numerous times to break these habits, it might seem like nothing works.
Even when you think you’ve finally bested it, you might find yourself back to doing the same habit weeks, or even hours, later.
So, how can we stop? How long does it take to break a habit?
It can be a challenge, but with some time and effort, habits can be changed.
Every year, New Year’s Eve rolls around and we make a list of our resolutions — or rather, habits we want to change or get rid of for the year.
Spend less time on social media. Eat better. Exercise more. Quit smoking. Stop biting your nails.
Making a list of your habits is not meant to make you feel bad about yourself, but to make you more aware of the things you want to change.
This list can seem overwhelming, especially if it keeps growing and growing each year.
You’re not alone. We all have habits — old and new — that we want to change. Instead of trying to change them all, just pick one or two.
Now that you’ve made a list of your habits, try to find what prompts them.
Maybe you reach for that carton of ice cream or bar of chocolate when you’re stressed or are having a bad day. Maybe you spend so much time scrolling on social media because you’re bored.
Nervousness or anxiety in stressful situations might drive you to bite your nails.
Learning what puts your habit in motion might help you come up with ideas to stop or change the behavior.
Once you know the cause, removing it or finding ways to ease those feelings in the moment might help you break that habit.
If you tend to reach for foods you don’t want to be eating, consider throwing them away (or donating them). If the first thing you do when you wake up is check your phone, try leaving your phone outside your room or in another area not as close to your bed.
This doesn’t have to be forever — just until you’re confident that you’ve broken the habit.
Just knowing the habit and cause behind it isn’t enough to make it go away.
Research in 2011 suggests that replacing a habit with an alternate behavior is a good way to change or break a habit.
Instead of reaching for a cigarette when you’re stressed, try stress management techniques — such as taking a walk or meditation — to find relief.
When anxiety has you chewing on your nails again, some deep breathing exercises might help ease your feelings.
Try not to replace your new behavior with something that’s similar to the old one. For example, if you want to stop scrolling through social media so much, try not to use another streaming app as a replacement.
Try these replacement ideas:
- eating fruit when you think about a processed sweet
- journaling when you’re stressed or anxious
- reading a book when you’re bored
- chewing a piece of gum when you want a cigarette
Experts believe that habits are hard to break because they’ve become an automatic part of our day-to-day routines and patterns. In fact, our habit-forming behaviors have been historically
Making simple changes — such as moving your phone from your nightstand before bed — can make it easier for the new behavior to become part of your autopilot routine.
It’s natural to have slips ups.
Rather than beat yourself up about it, remind yourself that you’re only human and it’s OK.
If you fall back into the habit, remember that it might take more than one trial to change it.
Motivate yourself to change your habits by using incentives or rewards.
It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or elaborate. It can be something as simple as a bubble bath or a favorite meal.
Consider setting a goal for the week, and if you reach it, treat yourself. Knowing there’s a reward in the future might motivate you to stick with your plan to break that habit.
Habits are hard to break. Habits aren’t formed overnight, so they won’t change overnight, either.
It takes time and patience for new behaviors to become routine. Habits can take several weeks to change. But don’t give up!
If you keep at it, you can turn those new behaviors into habits, too.
It’s not easy breaking or changing a habit that you’ve had for a long time.
It might take some trial and error and a bit of time to make that change. But with a plan and a lot of patience, your new behaviors can soon become second nature.
If you need help ending a habit, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. A trained mental professional can offer guidance and support if you want to address a deeper issue — such as substance use, compulsions, or addiction.