Do you find yourself unconsciously biting your nails, fidgeting, procrastinating, or reaching for a cigarette? Have you ever tried to quit, only to relapse within a few days? You’re not alone. Many people unknowingly acquire bad habits that continue for months, or even years, and never do anything to change their life. But no matter how long you’ve harbored your habit, you can always break free. Here’s a short list of the most effective ways to break any bad habit.

1. Awareness

The first step to breaking a habit is to become aware of its existence. Surprisingly, many people never reach this step; some habits form as early as childhood, often picked up from mimicking parents or guardians, and seem completely normal. These habits are the hardest to break, and you may require a little help from your friends and loved ones. Ask them if they’ve ever noticed any bad habits of yours (they’ll want to know of theirs, too). Once you’ve become aware of the habit, visualize yourself in a tempting situation and mentally practice good behavior over the bad habit. If you can dream it, you can do it.

2. Cold Turkey

If you’re well aware of your habit and it still gets the better of you, you may need to rearrange your life a little bit. Try tracking your habit: keep a list of when, where, and why your habit appears so you can more effectively remove the behavior from your life. This may mean taking different routes to work or school, or avoiding certain people who tend to bring out your bad side for a while, until you feel confident that the habit is kicked. If your habit involves substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana, this means immediately and completely abstaining from it, and even suffering through withdrawal. But this is good; it’s the first step in becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be.

3. The Tier Method

Self-control is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened through practice. If you find that you can’t give up a habit in one fell swoop — which can actually increase cravings and put you at risk for relapse — you may need to wean yourself off of a certain behavior. The most popular way of doing this is by systematically cutting back your intake by half at regular intervals. For example, if you’re used to drinking 30 beers a week, force yourself to only drink 15 for a given period of time. Eventually, when you feel you’re ready, lower it to 7-8, then 3-4, etc. until you’re no longer compelled to overindulge and you can exert control over your habit. By putting your habit (or addiction) in hindsight, you’ll begin to see the beauty of the present moment (most addicts are blind) and enjoy a new-found freedom of choice.

4. Replacement

Now that you’ve become aware of your habit and are taking steps to remove it from your everyday life, you must ensure that the habit won’t ever return. Withdrawal from any activity causes the reward centers in our brain to crave stimulation, even if it’s negative or harmful, so you must counteract this with positive replacements such as hobbies, physical activities, or creativity. How do you fulfill yourself? People overcome with bad habits don’t believe in themselves enough to change; every day you must consciously choose to be the person you want to be. A morning stretch is a much better habit than that first cigarette of the day, don’t you think?

However helpful these tips are, the most important part of breaking a bad habit for good is really wanting to quit on a deep personal level in order to move on with your life. Most people have to hit a “rock bottom,” when their lives have become so desperate that they have no choice but to face their problems or suffer dire consequences. But you don’t have to. Just think about how much better your life will be without your bad habit, and start making a change today.

Quitting cigs can get done in 30 days or less: Breaking Bad Habits in 28 Days

Featured photo credit: misty forrest lane on a quite day via Shutterstock

Love this article?