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How to Break Bad Habits… For Good!

Throughout life we encounter moments of self-reflection and inspiration to make a change. Whether it’s breaking a bad habit of smoking, drinking soda, overeating, procrastinating, losing your temper, or hurrying your kids… there’s always something which needs to be remedied.

I recently decided to quit eating refined sugars. This was not a decision that was made lightly. A number of signs and life circumstances pointed me in the direction of quitting sugar. Of course, this life change took place not even a week before Easter, in the midst of Girl Guide cookie selling season, and two days after stocking up on Nutella.

I’m just three weeks into my no-sugar lifestyle and at the beginning of this journey I have come to several realizations on how to break bad habits… for good.

What do you want to change and why?

The first thing is to decide what habit you want to break and why. Don’t try to change everything at once. For instance, if you’re wanting to be a more patient parent there may be a few bad habits you have to tackle; yelling at your children and rushing them are big issues which need to be approached separately.

Select one bad habit and tackle it. Once you’ve overcome that bad habit, move on to the next one.

Take the time to write your thoughts down. Your motives should be clear and specific.

Visualize your life without this habit.

The next thing to do is visualize what your life will be like without this bad habit. Once again, write everything down.

Things to consider when visualizing:

* What will you feel like?

* What will you look like?

* What impact will this change have on your relationships with others?

* How will your home and work life be affected?

* How will your health be affected?

Make a plan.

When you plan a trip, most likely you look at a map and plot out your journey. Do the same thing for breaking your bad habit. Create a timeline.

* When are you starting?

* Are you doing a gradual change? If so, plot out the points when your strategy shifts (i.e. Smoke only 5 cigarettes a day; in one week cut back to 4 cigarettes a day, etc.)

* At what date do you want to be free of this habit?

* At what points in your journey are you going to check in? Daily? Weekly?

Anticipate challenges.

Breaking a bad habit is challenging. Take some time to contemplate any difficulties you might have. Strategize about how you will cope with those difficulties.

When I quit sugar, I didn’t expect the detox/side effects. I had headaches, I was tired all the time, I couldn’t think clearly, I was emotional, and I was very irritable. I wish I had planned for this because it made my journey that much more frustrating.

Fortunately I quickly realized what was going on and I made a plan. When I was feeling tired, I drank a green tea. When I was feeling emotional, I listened to an uplifting song. When I was having cravings I ate a piece of cheese.

The way you react to these challenges will have an effect on your habit-breaking journey.

Find a support network.

Enlist the help of your spouse, a friend, or a colleague. Choose someone kind and encouraging to be your support network. Ask them to check in on you. Ask them to pray for you. Ask them to challenge you if you’re making excuses about returning to your bad habit.

Be forgiving.

This one’s a biggie. You may slip up. You may stumble. However, assess why you caved in, plan for how you can avoid repeating that mistake, and forgive yourself. If you wallow in self-pity or beat yourself up long enough, you may not return to your original plan and intentions.

You’re breaking this habit for a reason. Dig up the notes you wrote about why you wanted this change and read them. Repeat the exercise of visualizing your life without this bad habit.

I hope these tips and suggestions encourage you in your journey to break the bad habits in your life.

Oh and one more thing… you can do it!

Jennifer Bly
Jennifer Bly
Author of My Kitchen, My Classroom: An Introduction to Homeschool, creator of The Deliberate Mom, Deliberate Homeschooling and regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Jennifer writes about parenting, her faith, and life with her husband and two girls. Jennifer has a Bachelor of Applied Human Service Administration Degree with a specialization in Early Learning in Child Care.

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40 thoughts on “How to Break Bad Habits… For Good!

  • Jessica Dimas

    I am so inspired by your elimination of sugar in your diet. I’m also super interested to hear how it’s affected your health and the changes you’ve noticed. I hope you do a follow up post on this! I really like you have the outline here on how to approach quitting a bad habit, especially using visualization to help bring it into reality.

  • christina

    This is literally the third post I’ve read this morning on quitting refined sugar. I am an addict, and I really think the universe is trying to tell me something!
    Thanks for the tips, I don’t know if I can (want) to do it, but I know I should!!

    • Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom

      I definitely sounds like your getting a message sent to you!

      I didn’t think I could do it either – yet here I am… almost three weeks later… on the other side of Easter… with a house full of chocolate and jelly beans – and I haven’t caved yet!

  • Candace

    These are wonderful tips, Jennifer! I have tried to quit sugar many times unsuccessfully. I feel so much better without it, but my addiction is strong. Congrats to you on your success! My favorite tip here is to be forgiving. I slip up and then quickly give up, which is really unnecessary :).

  • Jeremy@thirstydaddy

    I think the most important thing is being really committed from the start. If you’re changing a habit for another reason than for yourself, it won’t stick

    • Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom

      What a wonderful point Jeremy. We’ll never have success ditching a bad habit if it’s not our own desire. However, if it’s something we really want, we’re more likely to be committed to it. That’s also why I recommended writing everything down. Those reflections and plans have a huge impact on success!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on how to break bad habits for good.

  • Emily

    GREAT tips to set yourself up for success!

    I am big on not trying to change everything at one and making a plan. Some people say to aim high…but oftentimes people set big, lofty goals with no plan or willingness to the time to think through the small steps and challenges. You have all the steps down! :)

    Now giving up sugar…I have considered that, but I’m not even willing to go through the steps. So I will wait until that wave of motivation comes…then maybe I’ll give it a shot. Nice work on that one! ;)

  • Maria

    Another great piece, Jennifer. It’s so inspiring and so encouraging. I love that you included a part about being forgiving. It’s a big step to break a bad habit, and no one will get it right the first time. It’s important to give yourself a bit of grace, keep on trying. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Caryn

    LOVE this post. You have pointed out such great strategies for making changes.

    Congrats on making it 3-weeks with no sugar, too. I know it’s hard. I did it 1.5 years ago and haven’t looked back. Trust me, it wasn’t easy. I was the girl known for bringing gummy cola bottles to corporate meetings. My family always handed over their extra frosting from birthday parties. Point being, I LOVED sugar. But when I got sick again, I started to research nutrition and chemicals prevalent in my lifestyle and really saw a lot about the detriments of simple, white sugar. So, I quit. I felt some of the side effects, but let me tell you that I feel FABULOUS now. Plus, I look pretty good, too. If I’m craving something sweet, it is often satiated with a few nuts or seeds. I also love medjool dates. I will put a dab of sunflower seed butter (or any nut butter) in the center and it takes like a big piece of caramel. If you like coconut, I also love to toast shredded coconut in the toaster oven, sprinkle with a little oil and sometimes will add cinnamon or a little agave or stevia.

    • Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom

      Thank you for sharing your tips Caryn! I’m so happy I’ve done this well! I’ve just eliminated refined sugars for now. I am (on occasion) eating a wee bit of maple syrup, honey, or agave but I’m being cautious with those sugars as well.

      Processed foods have so much junk in them – but I’m now in the habit of making my own crackers and ketchup (because I can’t live without ketchup)!

      Thanks again for the encouragement. I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

  • Tiffany

    Yes times 1000! It is amazing how a support network can help! And when you slip up don’t just quit! Get back on the horse and keep going!
    Bad habits are not easy to break at all. I’m a nail bitter (eek! I just told you that) and I have finally given it up!!!! I still have slip ups, but it’s okay. I start again and my nails look soooo much better.

    • Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom

      I’m so happy with my progress with breaking this habit!

      This past weekend was my husband’s birthday and I was surrounded by temptation! I had a burger without ketchup (because ketchup is loaded with sugars) and I resisted the trio of desserts (cheesecake, apple pie, and brownies). Whoop, whoop!

      I need to stop biting my nails. I get bad when I’m watching an intense show.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on breaking bad habits!

  • Tamara

    I didn’t quit sugar, but about three weeks ago, I dramatically reduced it. I was reached for it day and night. Now I eat very healthily for the day, and then usually have maybe one piece of chocolate or something similar every so often. I’m not interested in a life where I don’t have any, because of celebrations and birthdays and special treats. However even giving up about 90% made a difference. Yes, I went through days of headaches. For sure. And now everything tastes too sweet to me! Even things with no sugar!
    For the record, I still do raw honey and local maple syrup. I meant that I cut out white sugars.
    Weird to see this right now!

  • Debbie

    Hi Jennifer, sorry it’s been a while, but glad to see that your posts are as good as ever!

    I had toyed with the idea of cutting out refined sugars, but in the end decided against it as I couldn’t (and didn’t want to imagine my coffee without a sprinkle of sugar or Fridays without chocolate).

    The advice you have given will go along way to helping someone who needs help breaking a habit. I remember reading that a habit no longer a habit if you can avoid it for three weeks. Obviously with sugar it’s a physical need as well as a mental one, but this time next year sugar will be a distant memory.


  • Iulia Gulia

    I’m pinning this. Inspired by your no sugar thing, I grudgingly committed to cutting back on my sweets intake. And yesterday I made a cake, so clearly that’s not going too well. I obviously need a little more structure in my commitment…