How To Replace A Bad Habit With A Good One

Individual Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.

It’s just possible, to understate the case mildly, that you may have picked up some bad habits over the last 18 months. Aside from taking some comfort in recognizing that you are far from alone, it is also comforting to know that it is possible to change some of those habits. But where to begin?

A couple holding hands and drinking coffee

The first step is to recognize a habit for what it is. Writing for, the author of Mind Over Moment: Harness the Power of Resilience, Anne Grady, says “Your brain loves habits because it doesn’t have to work as hard. Even negative habits are more comfortable than new ones. Once you start recognizing patterns, you can make intentional choices about the habits you choose to maintain and adopt.”

Habits, of course, are necessary to get through the day. If you had to think hard about everything from brewing a cup of coffee to picking out a pair of shoes and putting them on, you’d be wasting a lot of time and mental energy. “You live almost half your life on autopilot,” says Grady. “If you are not careful, you can become a slave to your habits, and they can become a way to live life unconsciously, rather than deliberately choosing what you want and creating a path to get there.”

Next, you need to identify which habits are good and which are bad — which ones contribute to your happiness and mental health and which ones detract. Go to the gym four times a week like clockwork? Let’s keep that one. Pour a cocktail every day at 5:00 whether you feel like it or not? Maybe it’s time to think about that habit. The key, though, is patience. “Your neuropathways,” Grady emphasizes, “have been carved deeply, and it takes repetitive, consistent change to build new neuropathways. And just because you develop a new neuropathway does not mean old ones are erased — which means it’s easy to slip back into old habit patterns.”

To shift your behavior, Grady says, try the following:

  • Avoid thinking about “breaking” a habit — instead, try to replace unproductive habits with productive ones.
  • Do not try to replace several habits at once — focus on developing one new habit at a time.
  • Combine a new habit with one (a productive one) that you already do.
  • Be patient: repetition over time is the surest way to build a new productive habit.

Read more about Grady’s insights here.