Don’t we all have bad habits we’d like to get rid of?

Some are seemingly harmless, like snacking on fast food or binge-watching Netflix when we promised ourselves to read a book instead. Then, there are behaviors like drinking alcohol to loosen up in social situations, overeating to soothe anxiety, or worrying excessively about the future that can be detrimental to our physical and mental well-being.

It’s a slippery slope: the more we engage in them, the harder it is to quit them and the easier it is to pick up more bad habits. Sadly, that can lead you to struggle with significant mental health issues, such as depression, addictions, or anxiety.

While we might wish we could make these unhealthy tendencies disappear in a snap of a finger, the reality is not that simple. The truth is that quitting these habits feels more like an uphill battle. However, with knowledge comes power, and understanding the mechanism of habit formation can give you an upper hand and a real chance at overcoming this difficulty. In this blog post, we discuss the psychology of habits and share practical tips on how to break a bad habit for good.

The Psychology Of Bad Habits

Root Causes

Bad habits are often coping ways we create to deal with discomfort, stress, or boredom in our daily lives. Just think about situations in which you’re most prone to engage in your bad habit:

  • Are you more likely to empty a bag of chips or devour chocolate bars when anxious or tired?
  • Perhaps reaching for healthy foods is easier when you’re staying productive and interested in your tasks at hand?
  • What about those days when you don’t feel like doing anything? Finding any motivation to cook a nutritious meal is nearly impossible compared to ordering pizza. 

Human brains are hard-wired to react quickly when we’re stressed. That means making decisions that are based on snap judgments and black-or-white thinking. As a result, rather
than considering alternative options, we often limit our choices.

Boredom, in turn, decreases our self-control and causes poor focus, which leads to impulsive behaviors. Instead of considering the long-term consequences of our actions, we’re more interested in achieving immediate relief.

It’s also important to note that a deeper, underlying issue might fuel your bad habits, i.e., dysfunctional beliefs or unresolved conflict. Recognizing that on your own is quite difficult. However, doing so with the assistance of an experienced psychologist can help you immensely.


If you tried multiple times to break your bad habit, like procrastination or negative self-talk, but it never worked long-term, you might feel helpless or tempted by the idea of giving up for good. However, unhealthy behaviors, when left unchecked, can wreak havoc on your life, causing further issues such as:

Eliminating Harmful Habits for Good

1.Analyse Your Bad Habit

If you know something is bad for you, why quitting is so difficult?

Each habit is made out of 3 elements

1: a cue 2: a routine 3: a reward
Definition The specific situations in which you tend to engage in your bad habit. The sequence of activities you perform with your habit. A benefit you get from completing your bad habit.
Example Turning your computer on upon arriving at work. Checking emails and scrolling through social media. Getting dopamine rush from new notifications, likes, comments, etc.

Elliot Berkman, the director of the University of Oregon’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab, explains that the better you understand the context in which your bad habit operates, the better your chances of breaking it for good.

Next time you catch yourself smoking a cigarette, overeating, or wasting your time instead of following your to-do list, take a moment to notice your cue, routine, and reward you’re getting from it.

2. Find a Healthy Alternative

If you eliminate a bad habit, you cut out a source of dopamine you were feeding your brain. You deprive yourself of the reward you used to get from the unhealthy activity.

Finding a healthy alternative to your bad habit plays a crucial role, as it sets you up for success. It also shifts your focus from quitting a bad habit to starting a good one. Besides, research shows that putting all your efforts into suppressing an activity is a one-way street to relapsing. However, replacing it with a healthy alternative encourages us to act, which has greater positive effects.

Here are some ideas for you to consider

bad habits healthy alternatives
smoking cigarettes chewing gum
ordering takeout learning to cook new recipes
drinking too much coffee trying out matcha tea
scrolling through social media meeting up with friends for walks in nature
scrolling through social media self-compassion

Breaking a Bad Habit for Good

3. Baby Steps

One of the most common mistakes we make when trying to stop a bad habit is attempting to quit ‘cold turkey’. While it might work for a few people, most of us need to introduce this change gradually instead of all at once. Not only does it decrease the possibility of relapsing, but it also increases our chances of breaking a bad habit for good, not only for a week.

Taking one step at a time can help you build the confidence necessary to succeed and make you feel more in control. Start with:

  • setting small daily goals to achieve
  • staying consistent
  • removing triggers gradually

If your bad habit is procrastinating, you don’t have to become a hermit or get rid of your laptop, TV, and phone to break that habit. Instead, plan for moments of weakness, stress, or overwhelm by coming up with replacements and healthy coping ways like:

  • mindfulness to calm down, 
  • journaling to quiet your mind,
  • working out to release the tension. 


Quitting bad habits is difficult. That’s why so many of us don’t manage to succeed. Luckily, it’s possible with the awareness, adequate tools, and help.

If your bad habits interfere with your life and you feel like they’re holding you back, don’t wait for them to disappear on their own. Instead, get the professional help you deserve and learn hope to break a bad habit for good with Harbor Psychiatry.

Click here to contact us and invest in your health, well-being, and growth today!

This article is provided by Dr. Ralph Kueche (Child Psychologist). Dr. Kuechle is a Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist who specializes in treating children and their families who may be struggling with mood and behavioral issues. Learn more about Dr. Kuechle.