How To Break Bad Habits

Breaking Bad

Bad habits are tough to shake. Tardiness. Procrastination. Chronic complaining. Many of us can pick an item or two off this short list that have (unfortunately) become almost second nature. Left unchecked, these repetitive actions can hinder professional advancement and personal development, says Marsha Haygood, co-author of The Little Black Book of Success: Laws of Leadership for Black Women (One World/Ballantine; $20). She adds, “If doing what you’re doing is not getting you to where you want to be, you have to decide if it is better to keep the habit you have or change it.”

Though it may seem impossible, habits can be broken or gained. But the determinate in doing either effectively depends on the habit  and the individual. “The environment you’re  in and the support you have are going to play a part in your success as well,” says Kelly A. Morgan, author of Journey to a Place Called THERE: A Navigation Guide for Creating a Balanced Life (Scribe Etc.; $16.95). “The people you’re around, the habits they have, can bring you up or down.”

Of course, replacing bad habits with more productive and beneficial behavior won’t happen without discipline and commitment. Ongoing reinforcement is essential. Morgan says, “Reinforcement is a gentle reminder of what it is you need to be doing and why you need to do it.”

“Start with a small reduction,” offers Tony Gaskins Jr., a Tampa, Florida-based life and relationship coach. “Each day, do that thing one less time than you did the day or week before.” And all isn’t lost if you regress. “Just because you mess up one day, don’t give up all hope. The victory is in getting up one more time than you fail.”

Break or build a habit with these three steps.

1. Develop positive affirmations.
Prepare “I Am” statements, recommends Gaskins. Place them on blank flashcards and post them in your office, bedroom, or even home bathroom as constant reminders and encouragement. “I Am statements are everything you’re not,” he explains. “If you’re late, write ‘I am prompt,’ if you’re rude note, ‘I am nice, I am cordial.’” Gaskins says the exercise helps subconsciously reinforce the desired trait you’d like to have from the outside in.

2. Seek help from the masters.
Observe your surroundings. “Identify someone that is getting the results you desire,” says Gaskins, adding that seeking advice, tips from those effectively demonstrating a characteristic you’d like to incorporate into your daily regimen shows initiative.

3. Have an end in mind.
Visualizing where you see yourself in the future makes the goal’s reach much more attainable, which can in turn be motivating. Often a negative mindset prevents people from overcoming challenges, says Haygood. But once you are able to mentally see where it is you’d like to be, a plan and ways to measure progress and maintain accountability are pivotal. “Check in every seven days,” suggests Morgan. “This allows you to acknowledge how far you’ve come.”

Renita Burns is a writer and content producer for