How To Break Bad Habits (And Keep Good Ones)

January 5th 2016

Taylor Bell

Often, we make new year's resolutions with the hope of kick-starting positive changes in our lives. But the truth is, it's really hard to change our habits. More than 90 percent of people fail to stick to their new year's resolutions.

But before you resolve not to change anything in the new year, here are some scientific tips to help stop bad habits and pick up good ones.

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1. Be conscious of your bad habit


Habits have a three-step process. First, there's the cue that triggers the behavior, the behavior itself, then the brain's reward for the behavior, according to Charles Duhigg, author of "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business."

In an interview with the Huffington Post Duhigg said that the key to breaking a habit is to "recognize the cue and reward linked to your habit, and then replace your habit with another substitute behavior."

So, the next time you find yourself engaging in that repetitive behavior, stop for a moment. Study when and why you like this habit and what feelings are attached to doing it. Identifying these are key in making progress toward change.

Related: What Are The Most Popular New Year's Resolutions?

2. Take baby steps


A lot of people want long-term results in a short amount of time, but this is not practical. A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology found that on average it took 66 days to form a new habit.

With that in mind, experts say that the best way to develop a new habit is to start off small. For example, if you want to start doing push ups every day, don't do 50. Instead, try 5. In this way, you are building up your willpower and laying down a foundation for your new habit.

Related: Guess How Many People Keep Their New Year's Resolutions...

3. Celebrate small wins


As mentioned above, it takes 66 days to form a new habit. That being said, focus on progress, no matter how small it is. Acknowledging and celebrating incremental changes helps keep you motivated.

For example, if you want to start exercising, try sitting in your house in gym clothes for a week. Then next week, when it comes time to going outside, "it will come with a victorious feeling that becomes an incentive to push harder," Duhigg explained to the Huffington Post.