How To Change A Habit

Changing a habit has been something all of us have faced at one point or another. Whether it’s eating habits, drinking, exercising, procrastinating, staying up late, being late, driving too fast, hoarding, smoking, or something else, there is always room for improvement. You’ve probably addressed your favorite with varying degrees of success. So, how can you be sure to make the changes you want?

I have been asked by the court diversion program I work with to conduct a class on changing habits. Success in our program is often dependent on being willing to let go of negative patterns of behavior and embrace something more productive and fruitful. Bad habits can derail the best of us.

With a little research, I learned that a 2009 study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, said it takes anywhere from 18-254 days for you to develop a new habit. For that habit to become automatic takes an average of 66 days.* That is good news – just a matter of days.

Another resource, written by Tushar Valkil describes the habit loop as including 3 components. (taken from the book The Power of Habits, by Charles Duhigg)*

  1.  Cue – the trigger that signals the brain to automatically start the habit
  2. Routine – the physical, mental, or emotional response that follows the cue
  3. Reward – the pleasurable activity that the brain says makes it worth doing over and over. 

To break a habit, you have to interrupt this sequence and replace it with something more helpful. Try exploring your bad habit in this manner. 


If you want to stop eating snacks and junk food, for example, know when this is a problem. After you get home, you are starved but not ready to cook, or after dinner in front of the TV, in the car, or stress eating in response to pressure?

Each routine defines part of the problem and helps illuminate the solution. 


Understand all the cues that influence the start of your habit. Here’s a list of some of the variables. See how many apply for you.

  • Location – where does this habit occur – at home, work, the car, or other specific settings? Most snacking is at home for me.
  • Time – is it time-specific and likely to occur at a particular time of day? Like after work or after dinner? I’m starved as soon as the workday is done.
  • People – Is it related to being around certain people or being alone. How do people contribute to the habit? Snacking can be a lone activity or reinforced by a crowd.
  • Emotions – are often a trigger – consider the acronym HALT – hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Do any of these feelings prompt your habit? What thoughts go along with the emotions – the ones that justify the habit? Hunger is obvious for snacking, and so is boredom and any of the other emotions.
  • Previous events – Notice what typically happens before you start with the habit. How does that affect you?


To break the habit, you have to develop a new routine. Think of it as a replacement– you’re not depriving yourself, you’re giving yourself something healthier to do.  Instead of coming home to junk food, have healthy options ready to grab when you need them.

Consider things to break up the routine, make plans to take a walk, call a friend, or listen to music. The goal is to feel good about the new alternative, so you are rewarding yourself with this change.

Be clear about what you are wanting to satisfy and try a number of alternatives until you find several that help.


Be sure to identify why changing your habit is important. Make it compelling and necessary, a now or never kind of scenario. Are there health issues involved, does it hurt you or others, and are there consequences to your habit that will catch up to you one day, if not already. Consider these and let that be your motivation.

Be systematic about your plan to change your habit. Make it important in your mind, set a date, have your new alternatives ready, and keep track of how it works.

Remember, it is just a number of days before you can change your bad habit into a good one. In time, it will be automatic, and you will be feeling the relief of this change. I did this by eliminating fast food and all soda. It’s out of the question for me now to consider doing either.

Does this help motivate you to consider changing a bad habit? Consider the 3 components of the habit loop– the cue, routine, and the reward and know that you can reprogram them. Identify your cues, set up a new routine that is rewarding and focus on your motivation, and plan for change.

If you want help with developing a plan for healthier habits, reach out. I’ve helped many people develop a healthier, more satisfying lifestyle. Go to and use my Free Consultation link to reach me. I’d love to hear from you.





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