How to Break a Bad Habit

Sara drinking water

If you’re like me, you’ve read a lot about how to create a good habit.  But what if you need to break a bad habit.  How do we successfully do that?  I’m on year 8 of not drinking soda.  I had a bad habit of daily drinking Diet Coke.  Some days it’s all I would consume for liquidation. It started to affect my skin. I had adult acne worse than I had it as a teenager. So I quit. It wasn’t easy.  But I did it. The following are things that helped me break the habit.  Drinking soda may seem trivial compared to a habit you may want to quit.  The same principles apply to all bad habits: cigarettes, porn, alcohol or any other addiction you want to get rid of in your life.  Here are 5 things you can implement to be free of the bad habit.

Hate the Thing you want to QuitPray that God would give a sincere hate for whatever bad habit you want to quit. When you find yourself thinking about the habit with “desire” stop your brain pattern in its track. You can even say out loud, “No, I hate ________. It’s bad for me. It hinders me as I work toward a higher standard.” You could even go as far as placing a rubber and on your wrist & snapping it to “sting” your brain onto a new track.

In reference to a “new track” I’m referring to our neural pathways. Think of your brain like a hiking trail. Woods are naturally quite dense with trees, brush, vines & bushes. However, the trail, due to frequent passage by travelers, wears a visible smooth path. Hikers naturally stay on the trail due to its ease. The same is true of our brains. If something is repeated often in the mind our brain hops on the “hiking path” and smoothly travels on it over and over with little to no resistance. It’s been there  and done it before. It knows this path well. It likes it. It’s easy.  It’s relaxing. The rubber band snap and/or a vocal “no” throws your brain off it’s pattern.

The work comes in as you begin to pave a new path. It’s very possible, but it’s not easy. As humans, we are drawn to the path of least resistance. Deciding to get off that track and create a new one feels uncomfortable. I remember learning to run long distances. I started at 1 mile and worked up to 16. Any time I added mileage my body would fight me, my brain would resist. I had a phrase I would use as I trekked longer runs, “Settle into the uncomfortable, Sara. It won’t always be this hard.” The same is true of ditching a bad habit. The start is the hardest. Your body will fight you. Your brain will try to reroute you back to what it’s use to; the path it prefers. Don’t fall for it. With each successful decision you build momentum and momentum clears the way for a new healthy route!

Shine a Light on Your Bad Habit: Light, by nature, helps to make more visible what is unseen in the darkness. Satan, by his nature, likes to keep God’s human creations in darkness. He uses his favorite tactics: guilt, shame and secrecy. He knows the power of the light, so if he can keep you and your bad habit “hidden” he’s happy. I’m talking in code a bit here. But what I trying to say is that stating out loud what you’re struggling with to a trusted friend, mentor or counselor immediately defuses the bad habit. It essentially shines a light on the bad habit. Telling a friend eliminates the bad habit’s strongest forces: shame and secrecy. James 5:16 says to confess to each other so that you can be healed. And added but necessary component is accountability. Checking in weekly, or maybe I’m even daily for awhile, with someone you trust is an added layer of “shining the light”. It’s keeping the light on the issue until it’s no longer an issue.

Memorize Scripture: This aid in combating bad habits packs a punch. The Bible is the inspired word of God. In other words, it’s powerful. Having a short Bible verse on hand to quote when you are tempted is like a warrior with a sword. The Bible actually talks about the warriors “armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11-17).  All of the elements of God’s armor he offers us are defensive accept for one item, “the sword of the spirit”, which is the word of God. Swords are used for fighting back. Fight with the memorized word of God. Here are a few I love:

Romans 12:2a “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

Ephesians 4:27 “Give no opportunity to the devil.”

I Corinthians 6:19 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own.”

I Corinthians 6:18a “Flee from sexual immorality.”

Proverbs 4:23 “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Renew & Replace: The Bible, in Romans 12:2, says to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. Renewing your mind is another way of saying “pave a new mental pathway”. Another way to do that is to replace the bad habit with a good one. When I gave up drinking Diet Coke my mind and tastebuds were not happy. I couldn’t even imagine enjoying pizza or popcorn without the bubbly, sweet goodness of a Diet Coke.

I replaced Diet Coke with water ad sparkling water. Those first few days were the worst! Soda water doesn’t hold a candle to Diet Coke. Guess what, 8 years later Diet Coke sounds so gross. I don’t crave it at all.

Plan Ahead: What are the triggers for your bad habit? When are you the most tempted? Once you know the answers to those questions you can make a plan to avoid those scenarios. If the settings are unavoidable then make a plan to do an alternate positive behavior (determined from the list above) instead when you are in a habit habit provoking setting.

Perhaps you want to quit biting your nails. Every time you sit down to study for college midterms the stress triggers your nail biting. You can’t not study. However, you can replace the behavior with a new one, like squishing a stress ball with your hands. There are instances where the location of your habit may need to be avoided all together. Perhaps you want to quit drinking alcohol. Hanging out at a bar on Friday night would be a poor choice.

Celebrate: If you’ve implemented all these behaviors and you’ve seen success for any amount of time, celebrate! Implement a reward system. Please note: the reward should not include the behavior you are trying to break. If you’ve gone 10 days without eating sugar and it’s the longest you’ve ever gone, celebrate with a friend by meeting up for a coffee date or a stroll through Target. You know what would be a healthy fun reward for yourself. Do that!

As you continue to have success, momentum builds.  Momentum breeds growth.  Growth gives you confidence to keep going, to be successful and to be free of the bad habit.  Before long your bad habit will be a thing of the past.  Use your freedom skills to help others break free too!

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