February 27, 2023

Breaking Bad for Good

There used to be a television show called “The Newlywed Game“. The host asked the Newlyweds questions. The goal was to discover how well the newly married couples knew each other. It was entertaining to hear what the answer was compared to what the spouse thought the answer was. Exposed habits were frequently the brunt of the amusement.

Daily, we participate in habitual behaviors with little to no acknowledgment. Like, walking cluelessly across the street while reading a text message, smacking while chewing, finger drumming on the desk, or driving slowly in the fast lane.

All of us are creatures of habit, both good and bad. Our repetitive behaviors become ordinary to us. They show off what we count as important or what we deem acceptable. They are generally performed quickly, residing somewhere between conscious and unconscious thought. They give us a routine for our day and give us freedom from thinking about every little thing we do. Thanks to our habits, we live on autopilot a fair amount of the time, and remarkably we need most of the habits we have.

But what if we want to change a habit? How do we undo what has become automatic? Here are six breaking bad for good habit-changing steps:


Identify the Purpose


Isolate the Problem


Commit in Writing


Don't Go it Alone


Take it Slowly


Allow Do-Overs

Step 1

Identify the Purpose

Habits serve a purpose. It is important to identify what purpose they serve. For instance, brushing your teeth every morning keeps you out of the dentist’s chair, and surfing the web for hours or obsessing on your phone keeps you from starting that dreaded project or interacting with the people around you. Identifying the habit’s purpose is the first step to becoming more aware of the actions necessary to break it.

Step 2

Isolate the Problem

Habits are frequently a cover for a deeper problem. For instance, binge eating for comfort, to numb feelings of insecurity may be a cover for low self-esteem. Defining the problem the habit is solving is essential. Dealing with that problem is even more critical. Replacing a harmful habit with a positive one is a good way to start. Realize, however, that when real life gets in the way, willpower may not be enough to keep the old ways at bay. This step may take help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend, coach, therapist, or support group.

Step 3

Commit in Writing

Writing out specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals and keeping them where you see them often has been researched and shown to be very effective in changing habits. Add to that a Behavior Contract between you and a health coach or a trusted friend that outlines a set of behaviors you want to complete in a designated timeframe, and habit-changing success becomes much more likely.

Step 4

Don’t Go it Alone

When necessary, there is real power in reaching out to a trusted friend, a counselor, a coach, or a support group. Others often see you differently than the way you see yourself. Their perspective can lead you to understand things from a new point of view. By being accountable, the habit-breaking goal stays in focus, remains on track, and makes change possible.

Step 5

Take it Slow

A bad habit can be hard to change. Initially, it was a behavior learned and adopted for a purpose. Unwinding that behavior takes time and patience. Focus on the long-term advantages of the desired change. You are developing a new purpose, rationale, and resolve. When you progress, celebrate the success and continue reviewing solutions to any difficulties that arise. Give yourself enough time.

Step 6

Allow Do-Overs

I often say three steps forward, two back. Nobody’s perfect. Everyone slips up now and then. It is part of the human condition and is not a reason to give up. When you find yourself in a lapse, acknowledge where you are, where you have been, and where you want to go. Move forward afresh. Spend more time gathering information about why you slipped and less time beating yourself up. With the new information, revise your plan, if necessary, and start again. I believe in do-overs. Tomorrow is another day filled with opportunities.

Breaking bad for good is possible. Habits can be changed. Embrace the quote, “Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.” Go for it! You can do it!