Our habits very much define how we interact with the world around us. What we choose to eat, how we spend our time and money, how we care for ourselves and those around us, how we work (or don’t 😉)… the list is long. Sometimes a habit can be an incredible asset if it results in a positive emotional reward and healthy outcome. But, on the flip side, our bad habits can also be debilitating and counterproductive to progress. 

A common idea is that it takes 21 days to create the neuro pathways needed to establish a new habit. Beyond that, it can take up to 63 days for these pathways to become strong enough to maintain a new habit long-term. In our constant effort to keep you moving on a positive trajectory with purpose, here are five steps to overwrite a bad habit with a new one. 

1. Understand Your Bad Habit

You can’t change anything if you don’t acknowledge and understand the elements that need changing. This is why step one is a simple awareness of your bad habit and what causes it. Try making a list of bad habits you would like to change. Now for each habit, identify each of the following:

What triggers this bad habit?

What craving am I satisfying with this habit?

How am I responding?

What is my reward for responding?

How do I feel?

For example, say your bad habit is drinking a soda before bedtime. 

Trigger: Bedtime/thirst

Craving: Soda

Response: Grabbing a soda from the fridge

Reward: Emotionally satiated from having soda. Happy to get what you want. Soda tastes good. 

Feeling: A bit guilty

Habit formed over time: Bedtime = soda

It’s a vicious cycle, but it is one you can break. Let’s go further and talk about how you can rewire your brain to get out of this neuro cycle. 

2. Reflect on Your Bad Habits

Now that you have broken down your bad habit triggers, responses and outcomes, you can start to understand WHY you engage with this defeating process. Why do you think you feel the way you do? What deficit could this habit be compensating for in your life?

Sometimes bad habits are based on control or comfort. Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself once you decide you want to change this bad habit for a better one:

  • Why do you do the old habit?
  • What habit are you going to replace this habit with?
  • Why are you replacing this habit?
  • How are you going to reinforce this new habit? 
  • What are you going to do if you start falling into the old habit?
  • How would the new habit make you feel?

  • Your need to control your surroundings can keep you engaged with bad habits such as not getting enough sleep, working long hours, obsessing about details, or performing a task counter to productivity. In other instances, we can maintain bad habits as a form of comfort such as overeating, smoking, drinking or making decisions contrary to our physical and mental well-being. Whatever the reason, your desire to follow through with bad habits is based on some psychological element you need to explore to fully understand what you are doing and why. Once you have those answers, you can start on the process of fixing them.

    3.  Write Down Your Thoughts

    We are big advocates of journaling at MOXY, so this step should be of no surprise. Start writing down some of your thoughts about the habits you have developed. What did you discover about them in steps 1 and 2? Putting pen to paper is a great way to solidify your thoughts and ideas. It can make them more “real” and therefore, easier to manage and change. When you fully understand something and take ownership over it by writing it down, it gives you the knowledge and power to start effective steps for change. 

    4.  Make a Plan for Change

    Now for the fun part. You fully understand your bad habit and you know why you do it. Now you can start moving toward rewriting that bad habit with a new one. We love resources, so HERE is a free habit tracker you can use to keep up with the progress of creating your new habits. 

    Remember those questions and answers from step 1? Now it is time to do some rewiring. When you are trying to create a new habit, you need to change your response and reward to the trigger to retrain your brain. Let’s go back to our example of the bad habit of having a soda before bedtime:

    Trigger: Bedtime/thirst (unchanged, but recognized)

    Craving: Soda 

    New Response: Don’t get a soda from the fridge this time (hard, but this is the WORK). Choose water instead.

    New Reward: No soda. Sit with your feelings about it, and revisit your WHY from step 2. Your new reward is the success of not engaging with your habit in this instance.  

    Feeling: Proud

    New developing habit: Bedtime = water and no soda

    Does it suck at first? Yup. But soon you will find the more times you adhere to that changed response, the easier it gets to not grab a soda. And, after about three weeks, you will find that the craving also begins to change, leaving you with the ability to maintain a new habit. 

    You can even make this part fun by getting some friends involved and creating a little challenge for yourselves. Champion each other for positive change and reap the rewards together. 

    5. Rinse and Repeat

    Now do it again. And again. And again. Reflect on it as many times as you need to. Journal about it everyday if it will help you get to where you need to be in order to be successful. And, most importantly, keep going. Each day you are successful at maintaining your new habit, fill in that circle on your habit tracker and feel the dopamine reward in your brain for doing something good for yourself. 

    If you feel yourself slipping back into old behavior, you know exactly what to do. Once you break the habit, all of these steps and the habit tracker can go into the bin. You did it! You have a new habit, and you are on your way to having those solid neuro pathways of unconscious behavior… but now it’s good for you. Congrats!

    You now have the POWER to overwrite your bad habits with new ones. We can’t wait to hear about your success! Please feel free to share about how you broke the cycle and created a new habit in our Facebook Community

    December 22, 2022 — Wendy Parker