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Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM



The Habits Guide: How to Build Good

Habits and Break Bad Ones

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A Scientific Guide on How to Build

Good Habits and Break Bad Ones

"Transform Your Habits" is my popular guide on

how to build habits that stick. Where should I send
your copy?

Your best email Send me the guide!

This page pulls together my most essential information about habits. Ill share how
habits work, how to start and stick with good habits, and how to break bad habits.
Ive tried to present the basics of everything you need to know to start transforming
your habits, even if you dont have much time. If a particular topic or discussion
interests you and youd like to learn more, click around the site via the links I share
throughout the article. Page 1 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

Everything I write about from procrastination and productivity to strength and

nutrition starts with better habits. When you learn to transform your habits, you
can transform your life.

I. How to Change Your Habits (and Your Life)

1. What Are Habits?

2. Why Is It So Hard to Stick to Good Habits?

3. Common Misconceptions About Why Habits Fail

4. How Habits Work: The Hidden Systems That Drive Your Habits

5. What a Habit Looks Like When Broken Down

6. How Long Does It Take to Build a New Habit?

II. How to Start Good Habits

1. Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals

2. A Simple Plan to Overhaul Your Habits

3. Keystone Habits: How One Small Habit Can Change Your Entire Life

III. Sticking With Good Habits

1. A Simple Strategy to Help Your Stick With Good Habits Every Day

2. How to Hold Yourself Accountable

3. How to Get Out of a Rut and Get Addicted to Taking Action

4. How to Fit New Habits Into Your Life (Even If You Dont Have Much Time)

5. How to Make a Habit Stick in the Long-Term Page 2 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

6. How to Get Back on Track After Slipping Up

IV. How to Break Bad Habits

1. How to Break a Bad Habit and Replace It With a Good One

2. What Causes Bad Habits?

3. How to Break Bad Habits

4. Ready to Start Breaking Bad Habits? Heres the First Step

I. How to Change Your Habits (and Your Life) Page 3 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

What Are Habits?

Lets define habits. Habits are the small decisions you make and actions you
perform every day.

According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40 percent of

our behaviors on any given day.

Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits.

How in shape or out of shape you are? A result of your habits. How happy or
unhappy you are? A result of your habits.

How successful or unsuccessful you are? A result of your habits.

What you repeatedly do (i.e. what you spend time thinking about and doing each
day) ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the
personality that you portray.

Why Is It So Hard to Stick to Good Habits?

How can we have the best intentions to become better, and yet still see so little

We all have goals. Overall, this is a good thing. Its nice to know what you want and
having goals gives you a sense of direction and purpose. However, there is one way
that your hopes and dreams actually sabotage you from becoming better: your
desires can easily lure you into biting off more than you can chew.

Too often, we let our motivations and desires drive us into a frenzy as we try to
solve our entire problem at once instead of starting a small, new routine. Page 4 of 37
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Life goals are good to have because they provide direction, but they can also trick
you into taking on more than you can handle. Daily habits tiny routines that are
repeatable are what make big dreams a reality.

Common Misconceptions About Why Habits Fail

Depending on where you get your numbers, somewhere between 81 percent and 92
percent of New Years Resolutions fail.

Translation: At least 8 times out of 10, you are more likely to fall back into your old
habits and patterns than you are to stick with a new behavior.

The Top 5 Reasons Habits Fail Page 5 of 37
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1. You try to change everything at once. Its too much, too soon.

2. You start with a habit thats too big. You get overwhelmed and frustrated that
you arent making progress.

3. Youre seeking a result, not establishing a ritual you can stick with. Youre
focusing on the outcome, not the actual behavior.

4. You dont change your environment. We rarely admit it (or even realize it), but
our behaviors are often a simple response to the environment we find
ourselves in.

5. You assume small changes dont add. The underlying assumption is that your
achievements need to be big to make a difference. Because of this, we always
talk ourselves into chasing a big habit.

How Habits Work: The Hidden Systems That Drive Your Habits
Every habit you have good or bad follows the same 3step pattern.

1. Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)

2. Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)

3. Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)

I call this framework The 3 Rs of Habit Change, but I didnt come up with this
pattern on my own. Its been proven over and over again by behavioral psychology

What a Habit Looks Like When Broken Down

What does a habit look like? Lets use the 3 Rs to break down a typical habit. For Page 6 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

example, answering a phone call

1. Your phone rings (reminder). This is the reminder that initiates the behavior.
The ring acts as a trigger or cue to tell you to answer the phone. It is the
prompt that starts the behavior.

2. You answer your phone (routine). This is the actual behavior. When your
phone rings, you answer the phone.

3. You find out who is calling (reward). This is the reward (or punishment,
depending on who is calling). The reward is the benefit gained from doing the
behavior. You wanted to find out why the person on the other end was calling
you and discovering that piece of information is the reward for completing the

If the reward is positive, then youll want to repeat the routine again the next time
the reminder happens. Repeat the same action enough times and it becomes a
habit. Every habit follows this basic 3step structure.

Graphic based on Charles Duhiggs Habit Loop in The Power of Habit. Created by James Clear. Page 7 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

How Long Does It Take to Build a New Habit?

In the 1950s, plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz observed that it would take a patient
about 21 days to get used to seeing changes made by plastic surgery. Maltzs
observation of what was going on around him quickly spread, creating the myth
that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.

Myth: It takes 21 days to form a new habit.

What the research says about how many days it takes to change a habit:
On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic
66 days to be exact (according to this study published in the European Journal of
Social Psychology).

And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the
behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In the study, it took anywhere from 18
days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.

In other words, if you want to set your expectations appropriately, the truth is that
it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new
behavior into your life and start a new habit not 21 days.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that missing one opportunity to perform
the behavior did not materially affect the habit formation process. In other words,
it doesnt matter if you mess up every now and then. Building better habits is not
an all-or-nothing process.

Before we talk about how to start good habits, lets pause for just a second. If youre
enjoying this article on habits, then youll probably find my other writing on
performance and human behavior useful. Each week, I share self-improvement tips
based on proven scientific research through my free email newsletter. Page 8 of 37
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To join now, just enter your email address below and click Get Updates!

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II. How to Start Good Habits

Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals

The key to starting a habit that will last is focusing on creating a new identity first.
Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity.

To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about

Imagine how we typically set goals. We might start by saying I want to lose
weight. If youre lucky, someone might say, Thats great, but you should be more

So then you say, I want to lose 20 pounds. Page 9 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

These goals are centered around our performance or our appearance.

Performance and appearance goals are great, but they arent the same as habits. If
youre already doing a behavior, then these types of goals can help drive you
forward. But if youre trying to start a new behavior, then I think it would be far
better to start with an identitybased goal.

The image below shows the difference between identitybased goals and
performance and appearancebased goals.

Graphic by James Clear.

Changing your beliefs isnt nearly as hard as you might think. There are two steps.

1. Decide the type of person you want to be.

2. Prove it to yourself with small wins. Page 10 of 37
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For example: Want to lose weight?

Identity: Become the type of person who moves more every day.

Small win: Buy a pedometer. Walk 50 steps when you get home from work.
Tomorrow, walk 100 steps. The day after that, 150 steps. If you do this 5 days per
week and add 50 steps each day, then by the end of the year, youll be walking over
10,000 steps per day.

A Simple Plan to Overhaul Your Habits

Heres a step-by-step plan to change your habits.

1. Start with an incredibly small habit.

When most people struggle to stick with a new habit, they say something like, I
just need more motivation. Or, I wish I had as much willpower as you do.

This is the wrong approach. Research shows that willpower is like a muscle. It gets
fatigued as you use it throughout the day. Another way to think of this is that your
motivation ebbs and flows. It rises and falls. Stanford professor BJ Fogg calls this
the motivation wave. Page 11 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

Solve this problem by picking a new habit that is easy enough that you dont need
motivation to do it. Rather than starting with 50 pushups per day, start with 5
pushups per day. Rather than trying to meditate for 10 minutes per day, start by
meditating for one minute per day. Make it easy enough that you can get it done
without motivation.

2. Increase your habit in very small ways.

One percent improvements add up surprisingly fast. So do one percent declines. Page 12 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

Rather than trying to do something amazing from the beginning, start small and
gradually improve. Along the way, your willpower and motivation will increase,
which will make it easier to stick to your habit for good.

3. As you build up, break habits into chunks.

If you continue adding one percent each day, then youll find yourself increasing
very quickly within two or three months. It is important to keep each habit
reasonable, so that you can maintain momentum and make the behavior as easy as
possible to accomplish. Page 13 of 37
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Building up to 20 minutes of meditation? Split it into two segments of 10 minutes

at first.

Trying to do 50 pushups per day? Five sets of 10 might be much easier as you make
your way there.

4. When you slip, get back on track quickly.

Top performers make mistakes, commit errors, and get off track just like everyone
else. The difference is that they get back on track as quickly as possible. Page 14 of 37
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Research has shown that missing your habit once, no matter when it occurs, has no
measurable impact on your long-term progress. Rather than trying to be perfect,
abandon your all-or-nothing mentality.

You shouldnt expect to fail, but you should plan for failure. Take some time to
consider what will prevent your habit from happening. What are some things that
are likely to get in your way? What are some daily emergencies that are likely to
pull you off course? How can you plan to work around these issues? Or, at least,
how you can bounce back quickly from them and get back on track?

5. Be patient. Stick to a pace you can sustain.

Learning to be patient is perhaps the most critical skill of all. You can make
incredible progress if you are consistent and patient. Page 15 of 37
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If you are adding weight in the gym, you should probably go slower than you think.
If you are adding daily sales calls to your business strategy, you should probably
start with fewer than you expect to handle. Patience is everything. Do things you
can sustain.

New habits should feel easy, especially in the beginning. If you stay consistent and
continue increasing your habit it will get hard enough, fast enough. It always does.

Keystone Habits: How One Small Habit Can Change Your Entire
In Charles Duhiggs book, The Power of Habit, he discusses the idea of keystone
habits. Page 16 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

We have habits everywhere in our lives, but certain routines keystone habits
lead to a cascade of other actions because of them.

For example

A few months ago, I started to notice a funny thing.

When I worked out, I wanted to eat better. Even though I could have rewarded
myself with chocolate bars and ice cream, I felt like eating real, healthy foods.

I also slept better. And when I was awake, I seemed more productive. Especially in
the hour or two after working out, when my mind seemed to think clearer and my
writing was crisper. Thoughts flowed easily.

When I didnt exercise, however, I was more prone to eating junk food. I would stay
up later working on unimportant tasks. I started to feel tension in my back. I didnt
check it, but my guess is that my blood pressure raised as a result of additional
stress and no place to release it.

In other words, fitness is the keystone habit the puts the rest of my life in place.
When I workout, other things naturally fall into place. I dont have to think about
eating better. I dont have to force myself to focus on getting things done. Exercise
naturally pushes me towards my best self.

What Are Your Keystone Habits?

Im not always on top of my game, but on the days that I work out everything seems
to come a little bit easier. And Ill take all the help I can get as I continue my quest
to become better.

Imagine how much easier and more fulfilling your lifestyle could be if you
discovered one or two keystone habits that naturally put the rest of your life in Page 17 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM


III. Sticking With Good Habits

A Simple Strategy to Help You Stick With Good Habits Every Day
On his desk, 23-year-old stock broker Trent Dyrsmid placed two jars. One was
filled with 120 paper clips. The other was empty.

Every morning I would start with 120 paper clips in one jar and I
would keep dialing the phone until I had moved them all to the
second jar.

Trent Dyrsmid

And that was it. 120 calls per day. One paper clip at a time.

Within 18 months, Dyrsmids book of business grew to $5 million in assets. By age

24, he was making $75,000. Within a few years, outside firms began recruiting him
because of his success and he landed a $200,000 job with another company.

The Power of a Visual Cue

I believe the Paper Clip Strategy works particularly well because it creates a visual
trigger that can help motivate you to perform a habit with more consistency.

Here are a few reasons visual cues work well for building new habits Page 18 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

1. Visual cues remind you to start a behavior. It is much easier to stick with good
habits when your environment nudges you in the right direction.

2. Visual cues display your progress on a behavior. Few people actually measure
how consistent they are in real life.

3. Visual cues can have an additive effect on motivation.

4. Visual cues can be used to drive short-term and long-term motivation. The
Paper Clip Strategy can provide daily motivation, but you start from scratch
each day. However, another type of visual cue, like the Dont Break the Chain
Calendar that I described in my article on the Seinfeld Strategy can be used to
showcase your consistency over longer periods of time.

How to Hold Yourself Accountable: Create Your Own Paper Clip

There are all sorts of ways to use the paper clip habit for your own goals.

Hoping to do 100 pushups each day? Start with 10 paper clips and move one
over each time you drop down and do a set of 10 throughout the day.

Need to send 25 sales emails every day? Start with 25 paper clips and toss one
to the other side each time you press Send.

Want to drink 8 glasses of water each day? Start with 8 paper clips and slide
one over each time you finish a glass.

Not sure if youre taking your medication three times per day? Set 3 paper
clips out and flip one into the bin each time you swallow your pills.

Best of all, the entire strategy will cost you less than $10.

1. Grab a box of standard paper clips (here is a cheap set). Page 19 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

2. Get two standard paper clip holders (here you go).

3. Pick your habit and start moving those bad boys from one side to the other.

Trent Dyrsmid decided that success in his field came down to one core task:
making more sales calls. He discovered that mastering the fundamentals is what
makes the difference.

The same is true for your goals. There is no secret sauce. There is no magic bullet.
Good habits are the magic bullet.

How to Get Out of a Rut and Get Addicted to Taking Action

The Domino Effect states that when you make a change to one behavior it will
activate a chain reaction and cause a shift in related behaviors as well.

The Domino Effect holds for negative habits as well. You may find that the habit of
checking your phone leads to the habit of clicking social media notifications which
leads to the habit of browsing social media mindlessly which leads to another 20
minutes of procrastination.

In the words of Stanford professor BJ Fogg, You can never change just one
behavior. Our behaviors are interconnected, so when you change one behavior,
other behaviors also shift.

The Rules of the Domino Effect

The Domino Effect is not merely a phenomenon that happens to you, but
something you can create. It is within your power to spark a chain reaction of good
habits by building new behaviors that naturally lead to the next successful action. Page 20 of 37
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There are three keys to making this work in real life. Here are the three rules of the
Domino Effect:

1. Start with the thing you are most motivated to do. Start with a small behavior
and do it consistently. This will not only feel satisfying, but also open your eyes
to the type of person you can become. It does not matter which domino falls
first, as long as one falls.

2. Maintain momentum and immediately move to the next task you are
motivated to finish. Let the momentum of finishing one task carry you directly
into the next behavior. With each repetition, you will become more committed
to your new self-image.

3. When in doubt, break things down into smaller chunks. As you try new habits,
focus on keeping them small and manageable. The Domino Effect is about
progress, not results. Simply maintain the momentum. Let the process repeat
as one domino automatically knocks down the next. Page 21 of 37
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When one habit fails to lead to the next behavior, it is often because the behavior
does not adhere to these three rules. There are many different paths to getting
dominoes to fall. Focus on the behavior you are excited about and let it cascade
throughout your life.

How to Fit New Habits Into Your Life ( Even If You Dont Have
Much Time)
You probably have very strong habits and connections that you take for granted
each day. For example, your brain is probably very efficient at remembering to take
a shower each morning or to brew your morning cup of coffee or to open the blinds
when the sun rises or thousands of other daily habits. You can take advantage of
these strong connections to build new habits.


The quickest way to build a new habit into your life is to stack it on top
of a current habit.

This is a concept called habit stacking because you stack your new habit on top of
a current habit. Because the current habit is strongly wired into your brain already,
you can add a new habit into this fast and efficient network of neurons more
quickly than if you tried to build a new path from scratch. (Note: Im not the first
person to figure this out. )

Habit Stacking Examples

To use habit stacking, just fill out this sentence

After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]. Page 22 of 37
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Here are some habit stacking examples

Meditation Habit: After I brew my morning coffee, I will meditate for one

Pushup Habit: Before I take my morning shower, I will do 10 pushups.

Flossing Habit: After I brush my teeth, I will floss my teeth.

Gratitude Habit: Before I eat my first bite of dinner, I will say one thing I am
grateful for that day.

Networking Habit: After I get back from my lunch break, I will send one email
to someone I want to meet.

Stretching Habit: After I finish my last set of squats, I will stretch my


Again, the reason habit stacking works so well is that your current habits are
already built into your brain. You have patterns and behaviors that have been
strengthened over years. By linking your new habits to a cycle that is already built
into your brain, you make it more likely that youll stick to the new behavior.

To get started, simply write out a list of the current habits that you do each day.
(Dont forget about all the boring everyday routines.) Then, write out a second list
of the habits you want to start. Finally, pick one habit and look for the appropriate
place to stack it.

How to Make a Habit Stick in the Long-Term

Plan for Chaos

Lets say that you have a goal that you want to stick to consistently. For example,
working out three times per week or meditating for five minutes each morning. Page 23 of 37
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If everything goes as planned, then sticking to your goal isnt too difficult. If you
wake up on time, then you should have the extra five minutes to meditate in the
morning. If rush hour traffic isnt bad, then you should be able to make it to the
gym before going to your kids performance tonight.

Basically, if there arent any unexpected interruptions, then it just comes down
to getting started.

But when life gets busy and chaos starts to happen, thats when we start to come up
with excuses. How can you stay consistent when day-to-day life is so

The If-Then Technique

The If-Then Technique is the perfect way to plan for chaos and stick to your goals
even when life gets crazy. Why? Because it forces you to create a strategy for
reducing the scope, but sticking to the schedule before you actually need to do so.

All you need to do is complete this phrase: If [something unexpected], then [your

For example

If I dont wake up in time to run tomorrow morning, then Ill run after work.

If I cant make it to yoga during my lunch break, then Ill take a stretching
break this afternoon.

If I buy something unhealthy for lunch, then Ill cook a healthy meal for

The If-Then Technique forces you to consider the unpredictable circumstances that
so often enter our daily lives. And that means you have fewer excuses for doing
nothing and more options for sticking to your goals. Page 24 of 37
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You can also use this technique as a way to plan for poor performances as well. For
example, a basketball player could say, If I miss 10 free throws at practice, then Ill
visualize myself making 20 free throws before I fall asleep tonight.

Its a useful way of forcing yourself to consider how you will practice
deliberately rather than just putting your time.

How to Get Back on Track After Slipping Up

Here are seven strategies that you can use to get back on track right now

1. Schedule your habits into your life. Give your habits a specific space in
your life. This might mean putting your habit on the calendar, or tying the habit to
a current behavior. For more on how to develop a sequence for your habits, read

2. Stick to your schedule, even in small ways. Its not the individual impact
of missing your schedule thats a big deal. Its the cumulative impact of never
getting back on track. For that reason, its critical to stick to your schedule, even if
its only in a very small way. Dont have enough time to do a full workout? Just
squat. Dont have enough time to write an article? Write a paragraph. Find a way to
stick to the schedule, no matter how small it is.

3. Have someone who expects something of you. Ive been on many teams
throughout my athletic career and you know what happens when you have friends,
teammates, and coaches expecting you to be at practice? You show up. The good
news is that you dont have to be on a team to make this work. Simply knowing that
a familiar face expects to see you can be enough to get you to show up.

4. Focus on what you can work with. Anytime we dont do the things we want Page 25 of 37
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to do start a business, eat healthy, go to the gym we come up with

excuses. Heres what I want you to think instead: I can work with this. Because
you can. The truth is that most of us start in the same place no money, no
resources, no contacts, no experience but some people (the winners) choose to
get started anyway.

5. Just because its not optimal, doesnt mean its not beneficial. Just
because you cant stick to the optimal schedule, doesnt mean you shouldnt stick to
it at all. Good habits are built gradually. Start slow, live your life, and get better
along the way. Progress is a spectrum, not a specific place.

6. Design your environment for success. Most of us acknowledge that the

people who surround us influence our behaviors, but the items that surround us
have an impact as well. The signs we see, the things that are on your desk at work,
the pictures hanging on your wall at home these are all pieces of our
environment that can trigger us to take different actions.

7. Care. It sounds so simple, but make sure that the habits that youre trying to
stick to are actually important to you.

IV. How to Break Bad Habits

How to Break a Bad Habit and Replace It With a Good One

Bad habits interrupt your life and prevent you from accomplishing your goals. They
jeopardize your health both mentally and physically. And they waste your time
and energy.

So why do we still do them? And most importantly, is there anything you can do
about it? Page 26 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

Ive previously written about the science of how habits start, so now lets focus on
the practice of making changes in the real world. How can you break bad habits and
stick to good ones instead?

What Causes Bad Habits?

Most of your bad habits are caused by two things

Stress and boredom.

Everything from biting your nails to overspending on a shopping spree to drinking

every weekend to wasting time on the internet can be a simple response to stress
and boredom.

But it doesnt have to be that way. You can teach yourself new and healthy ways to
deal with stress and boredom, which you can then substitute in place of your bad

Of course, sometimes the stress or boredom that is on the surface is actually caused
by deeper issues. These issues can be tough to think about, but if youre serious
about making changes then you have to be honest with yourself.

Are there certain beliefs or reasons that are behind the bad habit? Is there
something deeper a fear, an event, or a limiting belief that is causing you to
hold on to something that is bad for you?

Recognizing the causes of your bad habits is crucial to overcoming them.

You dont eliminate a bad habit, you replace it.

All of the habits that you have right now good or bad are in your life for a Page 27 of 37
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reason. In some way, these behaviors provide a benefit to you, even if they are bad
for you in other ways.

Sometimes the benefit is biological like it is with smoking or drugs. Sometimes its
emotional like it is when you stay in a relationship that is bad for you. And in many
cases, your bad habit is a simple way to cope with stress. For example, biting your
nails, pulling your hair, tapping your foot, or clenching your jaw.

These benefits or reasons extend to smaller bad habits as well.

For example, opening your email inbox as soon as you turn on your computer
might make you feel connected. At the same time looking at all of those emails
destroys your productivity, divides your attention, and overwhelms you with stress.
But, it prevents you from feeling like youre missing out and so you do it again.

Because bad habits provide some type of benefit in your life, its very difficult to
simply eliminate them. (This is why simplistic advice like just stop doing it rarely

Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar

For example, if you smoke when you get stressed, then its a bad plan to just stop
smoking when that happens. Instead, you should come up with a different way to
deal with stress and insert that new behavior instead of having a cigarette.

In other words, bad habits address certain needs in your life. And for that reason,
its better to replace your bad habits with a healthier behavior that addresses that
same need. If you expect yourself to simply cut out bad habits without replacing
them, then youll have certain needs that will be unmet and its going to be hard to
stick to a routine of just dont do it for very long. Page 28 of 37
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How to Break Bad Habits

Here are some additional ideas for breaking your bad habits and thinking about the
process in a new way.

Choose a substitute for your bad habit. You need to have a plan ahead of time
for how you will respond when you face the stress or boredom that prompts your
bad habit. What are you going to do when you get the urge to smoke? (Example:
breathing exercises instead.) What are you going to do when Facebook is calling to
you to procrastinate? (Example: write one sentence for work.) Whatever it is and
whatever youre dealing with, you need to have a plan for what you will do instead
of your bad habit.

Cut out as many triggers as possible. If you smoke when you drink, then dont
go to the bar. If you eat cookies when they are in the house, then throw them all
away. If the first thing you do when you sit on the couch is pick up the TV remote,
then hide the remote in a closet in a different room. Make it easier on yourself to
break bad habits by avoiding the things that cause them.

Right now, your environment makes your bad habit easier and good habits harder.
Change your environment and you can change the outcome.

Join forces with somebody. How often do you try to diet in private? Or maybe
you quit smoking but you kept it to yourself? (That way no one will see you fail,

Instead, pair up with someone and quit together. The two of you can hold each
other accountable and celebrate your victories together. Knowing that someone else
expects you to be better is a powerful motivator.

Surround yourself with people who live the way you want to live. You
dont need to ditch your old friends, but dont underestimate the power of finding
some new ones. Page 29 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

Visualize yourself succeeding. See yourself throwing away the cigarettes or

buying healthy food or waking up early. Whatever the bad habit is that you are
looking to break, visualize yourself crushing it, smiling, and enjoying your success.
See yourself building a new identity.

You dont need to be someone else, you just need to return to the old
you. So often we think that to break our bad habits, we need to become an entirely
new person. The truth is that you already have it in you to be someone without your
bad habits. In fact, its very unlikely that you had these bad habits all of your life.
You dont need to quit smoking, you just need to return to being a nonsmoker.
You dont need to transform into a healthy person, you just need to return to being
healthy. Even if it was years ago, you have already lived without this bad habit,
which means you can most definitely do it again.

Use the word but to overcome negative selftalk. One thing about
battling bad habits is that its easy to judge yourself for not acting better. Every
time you slip up or make a mistake, its easy to tell yourself how much you suck.

Whenever that happens, finish the sentence with but

Im fat and out of shape, but I could be in shape a few months from now.

Im stupid and nobody respects me, but Im working to develop a valuable


Im a failure, but everybody fails sometimes.

Plan for failure. We all slip up every now and then.

As my main man Steve Kamb says, When you screw up, skip a workout, eat bad
foods, or sleep in, it doesnt make you a bad person. It makes you human. Welcome
to the club. Page 30 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

So rather than beating yourself up over a mistake, plan for it. We all get off track,
what separates top performers from everyone else is that they get back on track
very quickly. For a handful of strategies that can help you bounce back when you
make a mistake, read this article.

Ready to Start Breaking Bad Habits? Heres the First Step

If youre looking for the first step to breaking your bad habits, Id suggest starting
with awareness.

Its easy to get caught up in how you feel about your bad habits. You can make
yourself feel guilty or spend your time dreaming about how you wish things were
but these thoughts take you away from whats actually happening.

Instead, its awareness that will show you how to actually make change.

When does your bad habit actually happen?

How many times do you do it each day?

Where are you?

Who are you with?

What triggers the behavior and causes it to start?

Simply tracking these issues will make you more aware of the behavior and give you
dozens of ideas for stopping it.

Heres a simple way to start: just track how many times per day your bad habit
happens. Put a piece of paper in your pocket and a pen. Each time your bad habit
happens, mark it down on your paper. At the end of the day, count up all of the tally
marks and see what your total is. Page 31 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

In the beginning your goal isnt to judge yourself or feel guilty about doing
something unhealthy or unproductive. The only goal is to be aware of when it
happens and how often it happens. Wrap your head around the problem by being
aware of it. Then, you can start to implement the ideas in this article and break
your bad habit.

Breaking bad habits takes time and effort, but mostly it takes perseverance. Most
people who end up breaking their bad habits try and fail multiple times before they
make it work. You might not have success right away, but that doesnt mean you
cant have it at all.

Best Habits Books

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

Hooked by Nir Eyal

The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson

Want more great books on psychology and self-help? Browse my full list of the best
psychology books and best self-help books.

Where to Go From Here

I hope you found this short guide on habits useful. If youre looking for more ideas
on how to build good habits and break bad ones, then check out my full list of
habits articles below.

All Habits Articles

This is a complete list of articles I have written on habits. Enjoy! Page 32 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

How Innovative Ideas Arise

How to Create a Chain Reaction of Good Habits

The Scientific Argument for Mastering One Thing at a Time

Motivation is Overvalued. Environment Often Matters More.

How to Use Military Strategy to Build Better Habits

Free Download: Transform Your Habits (3rd Edition)

The Chemistry of Building Better Habits

How to Stop Lying to Ourselves: A Call for Self-Awareness

The Proven, Reasonable and Totally Unsexy Secret to Success

How to Stop Procrastinating and Boost Your Willpower by Using Temptation


How to Fall in Love With Boredom and Unlock Your Mental Toughness

How to Optimize Your Daily Decisions

How to Declutter Your Mind and Unleash Your Willpower by Using Bright-
Line Rules

How to Stick With Good Habits Every Day by Using the Paper Clip Strategy

Use This Simple Daily Habit to Add More Gratitude to Your Life

The One Word That Drives Senseless and Irrational Habits

The 5 Triggers That Make New Habits Stick

Why Stores Place Candy by the Checkout Counter (And Why New Habits Fail)

5 Common Mistakes That Cause New Habits to Fail

Avoid the Second Mistake

Minimalism, Success, and the Curious Writing Habit of George R.R. Martin Page 33 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

4 Reasonable Ways to Achieve Overnight Success

3 Simple Ways to Make Exercise a Habit

How to Build Muscle: Strength Lessons from Milo of Croton

This Simple Equation Reveals How Habits Shape Your Health, Happiness, and

How Vietnam War Veterans Broke Their Heroin Addictions

How to Build New Habits by Taking Advantage of Old Ones

How to Build a New Habit: This is Your Strategy Guide

How to Be Motivated Every Day: Lessons Learned from Twyla Tharp

Masters of Habit: The Wisdom and Writing of Maya Angelou

How to Change the Habits of 107,000 People

Plan For Failure: Being Consistent Is Not the Same as Being Perfect

How the World Around You Shapes Your Thoughts and Actions

Masters of Habit: The Deliberate Practice and Training of Jerry Rice

How to Change Your Beliefs and Stick to Your Goals for Good

Im Using These 3 Simple Steps to Actually Stick with Good Habits

How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science)

Masters of Habit: Rituals, Lessons, and Quotes from Marcus Aurelius

Rome Wasnt Built in a Day, But They Were Laying Bricks Every Hour

How to Stick With Good Habits Even When Your Willpower is Gone

Why Trying to Be Perfect Wont Help You Achieve Your Goals (And What Will)

Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead.

Do the Painful Things First Page 34 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

3 Simple Things You Can Do Right Now to Build Better Habits

How Willpower Works: How to Avoid Bad Decisions

How to Stick to Your Goals When Life Gets Crazy

How to Stay Focused When You Get Bored Working Toward Your Goals

What to Do When You Want to Build Better Habits But Cant Get Started

Free Download: Transform Your Habits (The 2nd Edition)

The Crime Your Brain Commits Against You

The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers

How to Stop Procrastinating on Your Goals by Using the Seinfeld Strategy

How to Improve Your Health and Productivity Without Thinking

You Get 25,000 Mornings as an Adult: Here are 8 Ways to Not Waste Them

What is Your Average Speed in Your Life, Your Health, and Your Work?

Achieve Your Goals: Research Reveals a Simple Trick That Doubles Your
Chances for Success

How to Break a Bad Habit and Replace It With a Good One

Free Download: Transform Your Habits (The Full 38-page Guide!)

Get Back on Track: 7 Strategies to Help You Bounce Back After Slipping Up

How to Say No, Resist Temptation, and Stick to Your Health Goals

How to Get Motivated When You Dont Feel Like It

How to Achieve Your Goals Easily

The 3 Rs of Habit Change: How To Start New Habits That Actually Stick

5 Simple Ways to Be Happy

How to Stick to Little Healthy Habits (Like Flossing) Without Thinking Page 35 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

Why is it So Hard to Stick to Good Habits?

The Difference Between Professionals and Amateurs

Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals This Year

Keystone Habits: The Simple Way to Improve All Aspects of Your Life

Feeling Fat? Use These 2 Easy Ways to Lose Weight

Habits Research Studies

If you are interested in geeking out on the latest habits research, then I recommend
looking at studies from these top researchers: BJ Fogg, Leo Babauta, and Kelly

Best Articles on Topics Related to Habits

Best articles on behavioral psychology

Best articles on motivation

Best articles on eating healthy

Or, browse my best articles.


1. There are several studies and articles quoting either a 90 percent or 92 percent failure rate. Ill go with

the 81 percent failure rate, which comes from a research study by psychology professor John Norcross.
He tracked the success rate of New Years resolutions over a two-year span.

2. Charles Duhiggs book, The Power of Habit, is a good summary of a lot of habit formation research. Page 36 of 37
Habits Guide: How to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones 11/7/16, 11'04 AM

3. Even though the study only ran for 12 weeks, the researchers were able to use the data to estimate the
longer timelines (like 254 days) to form habits. Again, the exact time depends on a variety of factors and
isnt nearly as important as the overall message: habits can take a long time to form.

4. Special thanks to BJ Fogg, Leo Babauta, and Kelly McGonigal for their research and work on habit

formation and willpower. I have learned a lot from each of you.

5. The phrase, the Domino Effect, comes from the common game people play by setting up a long line of

dominoes, gently tapping the first one, and watching as a delightful chain reason proceeds to knock down
each domino in the chain. I thought up this particular use of the phrase, but Ive seen others say similar
things like snowball effect or chain reaction.

6. Quote from BJs note posted on September 21, 2015. It is worth noting that BJ has some fantastic ideas

on behavior change on his site, many of which have influenced my thoughts including his idea that
behaviors travel in packs, which is similar to the core argument of Domino Effect.

7. BJ Fogg recommends a similar strategy to habit stacking in his Tiny Habits program and Courtney Carver,

Julien Smith, and others have mentioned the idea of habit stacking before.

8. Hat tip to Leo Babauta for originally talking about stress and boredom driving bad habits.

9. Hat tip to Scott Young for sharing the great idea about using the word but to overcome negative self



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