How to Get Rid of Bad Habits and Build New Ones

Are there things you wish you could do but don’t know how to begin? Do you struggle to understand how to break bad habits and start good ones? Do you wonder why you behave in certain ways even when you know you shouldn’t? Are you the person you want to be?

Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. Here are some tips on how to get rid of bad habits and build good ones.

1. Take the first smallest step and don’t get disheartened if you cannot see results straight away. Changes that seem small and unimportant will bring remarkable results if you are consistent and keep applying them to your life so

“You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.”

2. The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become. What habits the person you wish to become would have?

3. To build better habits: a) make it obvious…for example if you want to drink more water in the morning leave a jug and a glass on your bedside table (b) make it attractive…you know that after drinking your morning water you can listen to your favourite audio book for 10 minutes as a reward (c) make it easy….fill the water jug the night before so you don’t have to walk to the kitchen when you wake (d) make it satisfying….add a bit of cucumber or lemon to that water to make it more interesting

4. Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behaviour, if you want to make changes in your life, change your environment! If you want to stop eating sugar, remove the cookie jar from the kitchen top and lock it in a cupboard which is hard to reach…

5. Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat…so repeat, repeat, and repeat!

6. Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it.

“Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy…Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change.

Habits are a double-edged sword. They can work for you or against you, which is why understanding the details is essential.”

7. There are three layers of behaviour change: a change in your outcomes, or a change in your identity. Outcomes are about what you get. Identity is about what you believe. With outcome-based habits, the focus is on what you want to achieve. With identity-based habits, the focus is on who you wish to become. It is a simple two-step process: Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins. Ask yourself, who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?

“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity…The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results (although they can do that), but because they can change your beliefs about yourself.”

8. A habit is a behaviour that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible.

9.  The process of behaviour change always starts with awareness. You need to be aware of your habits before you can change them. Writing a list of habits, you have from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to sleep is a good idea…you can then label them as positive or negative depending on whether they will help you become the person you want to be. The Habits Scorecard is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behaviour.

10. One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behaviour on top. This is called habit stacking.


“The habit stacking formula is: ‘After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].’”

11. Creating an implementation intention is a strategy you can use to pair a new habit with a specific time and location. Gradually, your habits become associated not with a single trigger but with the entire context surrounding the behaviour. The context becomes the cue.

“The implementation intention formula is I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].”

12. It is easier to build new habits in a new environment because you are not fighting against old cues. Changing environment (or routine) to build a new habit or get rid of a bad one is generally a good idea.

13. People with high self-control tend to spend less time in tempting situations. It’s easier to avoid temptation than resist it. One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.

14. The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming. It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfilment of it—that gets us to act. The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike. Temptation bundling is one way to make your habits more attractive. The strategy is to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.

“Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. When dopamine rises, so does our motivation to act.”

15. We tend to adopt habits that are praised and approved of by our culture because we have a strong desire to fit in and belong to the tribe. We tend to imitate the habits of three social groups: the close (family and friends), the many (the tribe), and the powerful (those with status and prestige). One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where (1) your desired behaviour is the normal behaviour and (2) you already have something in common with the group.

16. Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings and unattractive when we associate them with negative feelings. Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.

17. The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning. Focus on acting as habit formation is the process by which a behaviour becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.

“The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.”

18. We will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work. Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. For example, if you want to go to the gym after work, keep your gym bag in the car so you don’t have to pass through home.

19. The more you ritualize the beginning of a process, the more likely it becomes that you can slip into the state of deep focus that is required to do great things.

20. We are more likely to repeat a behaviour when the experience is satisfying. The human brain evolved to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed rewards. To get a habit to stick you need to feel immediately successful—even if it’s in a small way. One of the most satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress. A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit—like marking an X on a calendar.

“Habit trackers and other visual forms of measurement can make your habits satisfying by providing clear evidence of your progress.”

21. Never miss twice. If you miss one day, try to get back on track as quickly as possible.

22. We are less likely to repeat a bad habit if it is painful or unsatisfying. An accountability partner can create an immediate cost to inaction. We care deeply about what others think of us, and we do not want others to have a lesser opinion of us.

23. Habits are easier when they align with your natural abilities. Choose the habits that best suit you. If you want to become fitter and you like socialising join a Rowing Team as opposed as spending hours jogging on your own.

“The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.”

According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, the holy grail of habit change is not a single 1 percent improvement, but a thousand of them. It is a bunch of atomic habits stacking up, each one a fundamental unit of the overall system. Each improvement is like adding a grain of sand to the positive side of the scale slowly tilting things in your favour. Success is not a goal to reach or a finish life to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine. The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements. It is remarkable what you can build if you just don’t stop….

James Clear is an American author, entrepreneur, and photographer whose work on habits and human potential focuses on how we can live better. He writes about habits and human potential and the art and science of how to live better. James believes the best way to change the world is in concentric circles: starting with yourself and working your way out from there. His newest book, Atomic Habits, was released in October 2018.