Why Are Bad Habits So Hard to Kick?

Feb 1, 2023 | Women's Health

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Whether it’s living a sedentary lifestyle, eating unhealthy foods, abusing drugs or alcohol, or not getting enough sleep, almost everyone has at least one habit that’s affecting their health and well-being.

Unfortunately, bad habits are hard to kick precisely because they’re habits. Habits become ingrained in our daily lives and, over time, become “automatic” behaviors. The National Institutes of Health says that habits are often helpful and can make certain everyday routines easier, such as brushing teeth, driving to work, and cooking dinner. 

However, the same mechanisms in the brain that create “good” habits can also create bad habits, and kicking the bad habits requires constant and consistent effort to rewrite the brain’s reward centers. 

What Are Bad Habits?

Many people fall into bad habits, especially those involving diet, both out of convenience and to cope with stress. For example, making healthy meals from scratch requires preparation, time and effort, and that can be daunting when you’re already pressed for time and energy. As a result, many people instead eat prepackaged meals, order takeout or grab fast food. 

Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes are two other extremely common bad habits. Both activate pleasure centers in the brain and can also become ritualistic, making them even harder to kick. For example, many people associate relaxation with wine, and smoking may become ingrained at certain points in the day — just after waking up, after lunch or before going to bed. 

How to Break a Bad Habit in 21 Days

The best way to stop a bad habit is to be aware of what causes it. Harvard Health says to keep the “three Rs” in mind when thinking about bad habits: 

  • Reminder—what triggers the behavior?
  • Routine—what is the behavior?
  • Reward—what does the behavior cause you to feel?

Being aware of your triggers and either avoiding them or replacing them with other activities can help break bad habits quickly. 

How to Stop a Bad Habit Permanently

Breaking bad habits in a short time frame doesn’t always lead to long-term success. In fact, many people find that they gradually fall back into bad habits. 

An important aspect of changing a habit is to create a solid foundation, and this can be achieved by measuring your motivation and confidence.

Rate both your motivation to change and your confidence level in your ability to change on a scale of 1-10. If you score at least a 6 in both categories, you have the foundation you need for a long-term, and hopefully permanent change. 

Learn more about breaking bad habits in our Ditching Bad Habits infographic.

Find a Primary Care Provider Near You

Women face many health challenges during their life. Bad habits can become more ingrained and harder to break, but our providers can help you develop good habits and achieve your health-related goals.

Find a doctor near you today to help keep your health on track and free from bad habits.

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