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How to build good habits and break bad ones

Humans are habitual creatures. Many individuals build good habits, while others spend an extraordinary amount of time breaking bad ones. Either way, there’s no way around habits and how much they impact our lives.

How to build good habits and break bad ones

Lasting change

It’s almost midnight; you’ve got a blowout whistle in one hand, a glass of champagne or Welch’s sparkling juice in the other hand, with your confetti ready, and a glimmer in your eye. If you’re anything like my family, your “noise makers” also consist of pots and pans. The countdown begins, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, HAPPY NEW YEAR! Each new year, individuals embark on new horizons, or at least, we think we do.

For many of us, that glimmer in our eyes on New Year’s Eve was hope. Maybe we hope to put a less than stellar year behind us and have a fresh start. Perhaps the past year was excellent, except for a few nagging habits you’d like to break. As the saying goes, new year, new you. Each new year, resolution after resolution is made, but how many of them persist in your life come March?

There’s no issue with making a new year’s resolution. The problem typically lies in not following through with your resolution. So why is it that often, we fall short in our quest to build habits, stay disciplined, and accomplish our goals? Well, a few reasons come to mind. For one, we live in a world of instant gratification.

Many weight loss programs and business gurus make promises they can’t keep, often telling their clients they’ll see successful results overnight, which isn’t reality. In one of the most popular books on habits ever, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” which many of us read in school or elsewhere, is there any mention of quick results?

The humbling truth of success is, it takes a lot of hard work and time. Sure, there are overnight sensations, but they’re in the extreme minority. Most times, you have to work relentlessly, scaling the cliff one hand or foothold at a time, before you can reach the mountaintop. Bluntly put, many individuals want an expedited process to success and aren’t willing to put in the time or energy to see it come to fruition.

Back to the basics

The second issue plaguing those trying to instill productive habits or get rid of bad ones is making things more complicated than they need to be. At one point or another, every human has made something more complex than it was. Take, for example, cleaning your room as a kid. Let’s say your parents asked you to clean your room on Monday, and you knew they wouldn’t check until Saturday morning because they were busy working all week. You put off cleaning your room and opted to ride bikes outside with your friends every day of the week. Saturday comes, and your parents ground you because you never cleaned your room. No bike riding with friends for a while.

Especially as a child, you probably looked at how filthy your room was and viewed it as an enormous task. In your mind, there was no way you could clean up the room without help. Your sibling dirtied it up, too, and you thought it was unfair that you had to do it alone. Well, if your parents are like mine, they didn’t care about every detail of who did it. If they asked you to do it, they expected it to get done, end of the story. What’s problematic in this scenario is how you viewed cleaning your room.

When building habits, it’s critical to take a step back and determine your outlook and timeline. You knew you had five days to finish cleaning your room before your parents would check to see if it was clean. You could have cleaned a little each day until Saturday came. By taking this approach, you wouldn’t have viewed cleaning your room as a huge chore that had to be completed in one day. Instead, you could’ve seen it as an opportunity to build a good habit of slowly but surely accomplishing your goal over some time, precisely five days in this case. Slow and steady wins the race.


The most vital aspect of building good habits is taking one step at a time. The successful and effective way to form good habits is by repeatedly taking one small step at a time until you see results. Incremental steps taken are still steps taken. Continuous improvements lead to long-term goals. If your goal is to write a dissertation, you have to prioritize your routine and allow time for this to be completed. If you must cut time from another area of your life to reach this goal, such as spending a little less time watching television or reading your favorite book, that’s a sacrifice you have to make. Moreover, it’s important to remember it won’t last forever.

Steps taken

“Short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.”

The same goes for breaking bad habits, as they won’t go away overnight. Let’s say you have a habit of cutting people off when they’re talking, or you speak louder than them to get your point across. Maybe you do this because you felt it was the only way you could get a word in at home when you were younger. No matter the cause, it’s not good etiquette, and people don’t like for you to disrupt them constantly.

I view bad habits this way; it likely took a long time for you to form them, so it’ll take a while for you to undo them. Anything learned can be unlearned, but you must be active and attentive throughout that process. You build good habits and break bad ones by making minor improvements to create lasting change, keeping it simple, and remembering every step counts.

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