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How to Stop Bad Habits


Explanations > Behaviors > Habit > How to Stop Bad Habits

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



Like creating good habits, stopping bad habits should focus on the triggering antecedents and rewarding consequences of the action, as well as the action itself.

For example if someone always moans in the morning, give them something to feel good about first thing, and when they do moan avoid rewarding them with attention and sympathy.

Things you can do include any combination of:

  • Removing the trigger
  • Avoiding the trigger
  • Interrupting the trigger
  • Changing the trigger
  • Noticing trigger and refusing to act
  • Interrupting the action
  • Changing the action
  • Removing the reward
  • Making the reward less significant
  • Changing the reward altogether

Tell other people that you are working to stop these habits. This will make it more difficult for you to stop and, importantly, you can get their help in alerting you that they are happening and helping you by interrupting them.


A person who is often grumpy in the morning notices that it often starts with rushing to get ready for work. They also notice a kind of gleefulness at annoying others. They consequently get up earlier and do some exercises, deliberately try to be nicer and reward themselves with the smiles of others.

A child tends to sniff and make other noises when with their parents visiting others. The parent talks about it and finds they are bored and that they don't notice the sniffing anyway. The parent subsequently takes a game with them for the child to play with and rewards quietness with hugs and attention afterwards.


Habits are sequences of actions or thoughts that are triggered by events or other thinking, and which have some kind of reward. In bad habits, typically there is a pleasant short-term reward although longer-term there are more harmful effects.

Bad habits can fall into several categories:

  • Harmful habits: that do physical or psychological harm to the person (eg. picking at scabs).
  • Antisocial habits: that the person does not mind but others dislike.
  • Wasteful habits: that do no harm but which take up time.

Spotting the bad habits you have can be difficult as much can be unconscious. Increased vigilance can help. It can also be useful to ask others to alert you when you are doing them. They can also help

Bad habits can be addressed by cessation, interruption and alteration.

Ceasing requires vigilance and willpower to power through the uncomfortable period where the habit tries to re-establish itself.

Interruption works by breaking into the automatic pattern, disrupting it and creating variations such that confusion is creates and the pattern broken.

Alteration is more deliberate pattern change, for example where the habit is allowed to continue, but harmful aspects of it are changed or reduced.

So what?

Notice your bad habits. Ask others about habits that they do not like. Pick one and use the approach above to stop the habit.

You can also use this knowledge to help other people stop their bad habits. A first step is to ensure they realize they have these habits -- many people are blind to the things they regularly do that upset other people.

See also

How to Build Good Habits, Changing Habits With Small Wins


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