How to break a bad habit | Step 5

How to break a bad habitPhew, can you believe we are five days into this habit kickin’ series? I told you it was rather involved. BUT, the further we go along, the more I think we are becoming aware of just how complex habit breaking actually is. Complex, difficult but ultimately really achievable. That’s the path we are on right now.

So, you’ve identified why you have your habit, you’ve decided that you really do want to change it (and not just ‘cos you think you should), you’ve worked out why you do what you do, you’ve committed to doing something quite different for 21 days and here we are. Ready to find out just how we’re going to make it through 21 days without our beloved X.

How to break a bad habit

How to break a bad habit - distraction

Step 5. Write down some alternatives

In Step 4 I gave you a cute chart to mark off your 21 days as you go. At the bottom of the chart is a ‘3 things’ list that serve as a reminder of a few of the things we can do instead of our habit. The idea is that when you find yourself starting up with the same old, same old, catch yourself out and refer to your list to divert your behaviour down a different track.

I think three is a good number, just in case you are bored by the first one and don’t feel like doing the second. To kick my diet coke habit, I decided to do these three things instead of drink coke:

1. Make a cup of herbal tea (iced is nice)
2. Sip on water with lime or lemon juice
3. Go outside and take a walk

My list contained the the two golden helpers of habit hijacking: substitution and distraction.


To work out your own substitution alternatives, you need to consider your why (see Step 1) and find something that also solves the why problem. When I was giving up smoking I carried a packet of nicorette chewing gum with me at all times — I only ever used one piece, but for at least a year I had a packet ready to go in my handbag, just in case. I also used bike rides, knitting, eating ice and grapes and flicking a pen around my fingers as a substitute for the act of smoking. The pen flicking thing became it’s own annoying bad habit, so be careful what you use as your substitutes!

My three night snacking substitutions are currently:

1. Brush my teeth
2. Drinking a cup of Detox tea (I like Pukka tea bags, but there are plenty of brands around)
3. Just go to bed (the best substitute of all!)


Until your new good habit (aka your substitution) takes hold, removing yourself from the bad habit situation and doing something completely different is the best strategy you’ve got. A good bike ride around the block has always been my stand-by for true emergencies, but you also need to offer yourself little distractions at key times in your daily routine.

For instance, I always, always had a can of diet coke with me when I drove anywhere. I knew that once I was in the car and mobile, the need for my habit would hit hard, but I’d be powerless to do anything about it. That’s a good thing by the way – sometimes we’ve just gotta tough it out when it comes to breaking habits. The trick though was getting into the car without the can in the first place. It was such a habit to go to the fridge and grab a can that I had to distract myself each and every time. Sticking a big note on the front of the fridge door that said, “It’s not worth it” worked for me.

I wrote more about how to distract yourself here, but this lovely little printable pretty much sums it up. Right click and save it to your computer before printing out your own A4 page of goodness.

Ways to distract yourself

Homework for today

Print out the distractions printable and stick it up in a place (or places!) where you need a reminder and some inspiration. Then, make your own list of things you can do to distract yourself.

Next, write down a list of substitutions that will help you create a new habit to override your bad habit. You can fill out your ‘top 3′ on your 21 days calendar so they are nice and prominent when you’re feeling tired and over it.

What are your 3 go-to distractions and substitutions?

{Click here when you are ready to move to Step 6}

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  1. says

    APPLAUSE! (You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to realise that you can’t just quit chocolate. Not when you eat as much of it as I do. You can’t just cut it out. You have to REPLACE it with real, actual food, or you’ll get hungry. Like, der, right?!)

    Sorry for the comment overload. I’ve really missed this space – can you tell? x

    • Maxabella says

      I am SO HAPPY to see you! And I’m so proud of you for giving up something that you realised was controlling you. I think that’s when we know that something’s gotta give. x

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