How To Replace Bad Habits With Positive Habits

Replacing bad habits can be a daunting task. One of the simplest ways to say goodbye to an unwanted routine is to replace it with a positive one. I assume you’re reading this because you realize that you have a habit that needs to be “kicked to the curb.”

A habit that is causing you or your loved ones pain. Maybe it’s been causing conflict in your relationships and you’re tired of disappointing the ones that you love. You realize that it’s time for change. You want to live a happier and healthier life. Whatever your situation, I applaud you for taking action.

Habits are powerful. More than 40% of the actions we perform each day aren’t actual decisions, but habits, according to a Duke University researcher in 2006. If you want to further understand how powerful habits are check out this article: 3 powerful methods to change your habits

Before you start replacing your bad habit with a positive one, you need to understand how habits work.

Let me introduce you to the habit loop which you can find in Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit (a must read if you want a deeper understanding of habits). In his book, Duhigg constantly refers to the habit loop: a cycle composed of three stages: the cue, the routine, and the reward.

Here is a look at the habit loop:


Habit Loop

  1. Cue: A trigger or event that provokes the habit. (Ex: stress, boredom, social anxiety)
  2. Routine: The behavior you perform, the habit itself (Ex: lighting up a cigarette, checking your phone)
  3. Reward: The pleasure you experience from the routine. (Ex: stress relief, entertainment)

If you stay in this loop long enough, a habit is born. Don’t believe me?

Here are some everyday examples:

  1. Smoking in social settings because you get anxious
  2. Reaching for the bottle whenever you start to feel stressed
  3. Filling up your online shopping cart because you’re feeling bored or lonely
  4. Grabbing your cellphone when things are getting boring or awkward

That’s real life. Bad habits are everywhere.

You’re probably wondering, “Okay, so how do I replace my bad habit with a positive habit?”

It’s simple (okay, maybe not that simple, but it is only three steps):

1. Find the Cue

What is causing your habit? Habits don’t just happen. They’re caused by an urge:

  • You bite your nails when you’re nervous.
  • You overeat because it makes you feel good.
  • You smoke because it helps you cope with stress.

Need help finding your cue? Check out (#4 Understanding Triggers) in 10 Ways to Quit a Habit.

2. Change the Routine

The hardest part of replacing a habit is changing the routine – it takes willpower. This is where the rubber meets the road.

When you have the urge to smoke, reach for a piece of gum instead. Go for a walk around the block. Call a friend. Change your routine.

The next time you’re watching TV and a snack ad pops up, grab a piece of fruit instead of indulging in a bag of chips or candy bar. 

Another way to change your routine is to stop buying junk food or cigarettes so there is no temptation. The key is to replace your existing routines with a healthier alternative.

Need help sticking to your new routine? Learn how to be gritty

3. Embrace the Reward

When you change your routine your reward might be different than you’re used to but embrace it anyways. Accept the feelings of euphoria after a nice walk around the block or lengthy gym session.

Feel proud that you opted for a glass of water over that soda. Give yourself a pat on the back because you chose your new routine over the old one. You earned it.

If you can follow these three steps successfully, then you can squash any habit that no longer serves you.

The best example of this can be found in your local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting. The AA guidelines encourage you to turn to faith and your sponsor rather than resorting to the bottle.

Most members who discover a lifetime of sobriety do so because they embrace their new routine and reward. Is it easy, no? But if you want it badly enough, you’ll commit to your new habit.

Final Tip

As a final tip, one of the best replacements for a bad habit is exercise. As mentioned in the Power of Habit, studies have found that exercise can trigger widespread change. People who exercise start eating better, become more productive at work, smoke less, and display more patience. In addition they use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed.

So if you’re looking for a simple replacement for your current bad habit, why not start with exercising?

If replacing an existing habit with a positive one still seems daunting to you, then take a look at this article on 10 ways to kill a bad habit. There are many ways to change habits. It just depends on which one works best for you.