In the new year many of us resolve to break bad habits and replace them with healthy ones. However, we often relapse quickly back into our old behaviour. Arlo Laibowitz explains how you can change this cycle, maintaining those healthy habits for longer and staying happier. 

Quitting smoking. Keeping a gratitude journal. Developing a mindfulness practice. Whether we want to break certain bad habits or create newer, healthy ones, the process can be complicated. Indeed, most of us have made resolutions to break bad habits in the past only to fall back into old patterns.

So, how do we change this cycle? How do habits work? And what are the elements needed to break bad habits and create healthier ones? Well, popular belief has it that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. However, a study from University College London has shown that, in fact, it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days, depending on the complexity of the habit.

Check out our video below for an explanation on how to break and create habits and continue reading the article for more tips. 

Learn how to create healthy habits... and break destructive ones


How are habits formed exactly? 

Habits are formed by the so-called 'habit loop'. The habit loop consists of:

  • The Reminder (the trigger of the behavior).
  • The Routine (the behaviour itself).
  • The Reward (the benefit of the behaviour). 


So, to develop a healthy habit, do the following:

  1. Identify the routine around the habit. Isolate the cue or reminder that triggers the behaviour.
  2. Create behaviour chains and choose a (new) reminder. Create two lists; things you do every day, and things that happen to you each day. These lists will show you where and how to insert a new habit, in an “if-then” plan.
  3. Eliminate excessive options. Identify aspects of your life that you consider not that important, and then routinize those aspects, so that you have mental energy left to work on your habits.
  4. Choose a healthy habit that's easy to start with. Big changes in life happen as a product of daily habits, not the other way around.

    RELATED: Happy habits – 12 ways to boost joy daily
  5. Experiment with rewards. Create success and positive feedback loops when accomplishing your growing healthy habit for that day.

    Develop healthier habits with these nine steps shutterstock/becarra

  6. Make micro quotas and macro goals. Balance your desire-to-dream-big-goals with your day-to-day activities and possible quotas to get to your goals.
  7. When monitoring your habit, consider using tracking apps, or using a simple “yes-no-chart” that tracks how many days you have engaged in the healthy habit.
  8. Make a solid plan on how to break bad habits or create healthy ones and how to monitor them. Visualise the process instead of the outcome.
  9. Eliminate the “what the hell efect” or “ah-screw-its”. Find where things are susceptible to break down, and consider including an “if-then” plan to mitigate these moments.

Studies have shown that certain healthy habits like making your bed, exercising, or keeping a journal, can keystone other habits. So, recognize a keystone habit that works for you, and use it to develop other healthy habits.

Avoid falling back into bad habits

To avoid falling back into our bad habits, or not succeeding in creating new, healthier ones, it's essential to recognise and counteract loopholes, like false choice loopholes, tomorrow loopholes, this-doesn’t count loopholes, fake self-actualisation loopholes, or one-time loopholes.


“Choose a healthy habit that's easy to start with. Big changes in life happen as a product of daily habits, not the other way around.”

Recognize these kinds of loopholes and counter them with “if-then” plans to strengthen your automaticity. Ultimately, breaking or creating habits help us in living the life we want to live.

As author Gretchen Rubin put it, habits are “the invisible architecture of every life and a significant element of happiness.” Whether it's gratitude, mindfulness, connection, forgiveness, compassion, or any other happiness practice you seek to work on, the key is to form and sustain healthy habits. So, why not start with one today? 

What are the bad habits you want to break and what healthy ones do you want to replace them with? And how have you managed to break any bad habits successfully? Share your ideas with the community below... | The fine art of being: learn, practise, share

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Written by Arlo Laibowitz

arlo.jpgArlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.




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@Calvin77 I couldn't agree more! Last year definitely forced me to stopped tying to plan things and just come to terms with the fact that everything can (and will!) be turned upside down when we least expect it. Even ending the year I thought I 'knew' the situation and the risks of what could potentially happen in the world, and then there was suddenly a mutated virus thrown our way  🥲 Didn't see that one coming!
So for 2021 I'm trying to keep going day by day and not get stressed and anxious over what could potentially happen ad that I have no control over 🌻 I realised the power of having healthy habits in my life, and I guess a silver lining is that it also forced me to breaking bad habits. 

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2020 forced me to live more in the moment and plan less, and I actually felt the benefits of that. So, I will continue to take each day as it comes for the forseeable future! :)

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