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How can you go about changing bad habits to good habits? We all have bad habits we want to quit but sometimes it’s easier to just change your bad habits into good ones or at least better ones, one step at a time.

Over the years I’ve picked up a number of bad habits, some I’ve managed to stop and others I’m still trying to shake off to this day. Whilst I’ve found some easy to quit straight away, I’ve had to ease out of others slowly by replacing them with good habits.

For example, last summer I began to get back into cooking again and paying attention to my nutrition, especially at dinner time. I’d reached a point where putting a pizza in the oven most evenings was my go-to and I was starting to feel the negative effects of it. Eating quick, fattening food had become a bad habit. And, like most bad habits, I didn’t realise it had become routine until months later when I looked at my stomach in the bathroom mirror.

Of course, I couldn’t just quit eating food. Instead, I decided to replace my bad habit with a good one – by learning to cook my own healthy meals from scratch.

In this guide, we’ll go over what I believe to be the most important components you need to look at to change your bad habits into good ones.

Quick takeaway: Changing bad habits to good habits takes time and patience. You have to set a solid foundation, observe what triggers your bad habits, interrupt that current routine, change your environment and then celebrate your rewards.

Examples of changing bad habits to good habits

Bad habits

Good habits

scrolling social media in the evening

reading a book in the evening

going to the bar after work

going to the gym after work

drinking 5 cans of soda a day

drinking 5 pints of water a day

checking your phone upon waking

meditating for 5 minutes upon waking

grabbing fast food

cooking your meals from scratch

Identify the bad habits you want to change and when you do them in general so you can begin to carve out a plan of action.

1. Creating a foundation for change

The main reason I wanted to make healthier food is that I didn’t like the look of my body at that point. Whilst I’d always been somewhat fit, the sight of the weight sneaking onto me was alarming. To change a bad habit to a good one, you have to understand the importance of changing your bad habit in the first place, not to someone else but to yourself. If you’re not fully invested in the reason why you want to change your habits, you’ll probably end up going off track very quickly.

Takeaway: Understand why you want to change your habits into good ones and make them of the highest importance to yourself. What is your ultimate goal?

2. Understanding what triggers you

The next factor you need to look at is simple enough but not always obvious until you observe your own behaviour a bit closer. What triggers your bad habits, to begin with? For example, my junk food habit was triggered by walking into the supermarket after work when I was feeling tired and grumpy. After being at work all day and then spending half an hour in traffic, I was fed up and wanted something easy to cook. I got into a routine of getting to the store at 6.30 pm and feeling the same drained way each evening.

You might find you want to try and save money, for example, and so walking into any store might trigger you into opening up your wallet when you see things you like but probably don’t need. Try and be mindful of how you feel in those moments. Does it feel like a negative routine you’ve found yourself in? Could it be your trigger?

Determining what your triggers are will help you recognise where you can begin to make a change.

Takeaway: Find your triggers so you can begin to break your routine. What mood are you in? Where are you? What happens before you perform your bad habit? Does it happen at the same time each day?

3. Change the routine

What happens after you’re triggered into performing your bad habit? Once I found myself in the store in a hungry, moody state, I’d browse the aisles looking for quick fixes to my ravenous hunger. With an aching stomach, all the junk foods looked much more inviting than they actually were. So, I decided I needed to change the routine I’d been living for months. I had to stop myself from bumping into my triggers.

To do this, I’d make sure I had all of the ingredients I needed at home to make my meals each evening. Therefore I wouldn’t need to go to the store after work only once or twice a week.

If did have to go to the store, I’d make sure I’d eaten enough during the day so I wasn’t tempted to pick up a snack here or there or a greasy pizza. These simple changes drastically helped to change my bad habits into better ones right away.

If you’re trying to swap your drinking habit for a workout habit, for example, start interrupting your routine by going to the gym just once a week. You don’t have to go gun-ho right off the bat.

Takeaway: Find ways of interrupting your current routine so you can steer away from your bad habits which will allow you to make room for better ones.

4. Manipulate your environment

Changing bad habits to good ones is much easier when you set up your environment the right way. You can change your routines in certain circumstances but if your triggers are at places you have to be like at home or at work, you’ll need to focus on planning ahead more. No matter what bad habit you’re trying to change, you have to make it as easy as possible for yourself. For example, I made sure that I had all the food I needed at home to make much more nutritious meals. I didn’t buy any junk snacks or soft drinks and stuck to my fridge full of healthy ingredients. I also began the habit of cooking lunches to take to work so I had no reason to go and buy snacks on my break.

If you’re trying to cut down on alcohol, for example, buy non-alcoholic drinks. Try not to give yourself the option to perform your bad habits in the first place – remove all those familiar triggers. If you’re trying to save money, take cash with you when you go out with friends so you’re not tempted to mindlessly use your card.

Takeaway: Make your life as easy as you can. Remove the temptations from your immediate environment so you can concentrate on your good habits. There may be an element of having to tolerate a new routine, to begin with, but that will pass soon enough.

5. Get your reward

The reward I would get from stuffing down a pizza was the satisfying feeling of being full which not only made me full up but also decreased my stress levels. Like any habit, we generally don’t do them for no reason. Taking a drag on a cigarette relieves stress, eating a cake gives pleasure, and going for a run gives a feeling of elation.

To change my bad habit into a good one, I had to aim for a new reward, and, I quickly found it. My reward for cooking and experimenting with fresh foods was a feeling of achievement from honing an important skill whilst knowing I’d done something worthwhile and healthy.

Takeaway: Feel good about getting your reward for performing your new good habit. Celebrate it and use it for motivation in keeping up consistency.

6. Changing bad habits to good habits takes time

Changing bad habits to good habits is a process and often a slow one. You will have setbacks and probably a fair few of them and that’s okay. If you’re used to drinking a large number of sugary drinks, it’s going to take a bit of an uncomfortable routine change to start drinking more water. In fact, changing bad habits into good ones will make you think about the overall kind of person you want to be and it will affect other areas of your life because many of your habits are usually tied to other habits.

My new eating habits took time to normalise. In the beginning, I had to constantly remind myself of my meal plans and stick to them, even when I was exhausted and didn’t feel like cooking. However, when I did slip up, I didn’t beat myself up, I simply accepted the setbacks and got back on the horse the following day. After all, you’re not going to change your bad habits overnight and that’s normal.

Takeaway: Don’t beat yourself up if you fall flat on your face, have patience and trust the process. You won’t change your long-lived habits straight away. Keep in mind what the long-term goal is.

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