How to Make or Break a Habit

We all have habits. It’s impossible to go through life without them. We brush our teeth every morning, eat lunch at the same time every day, and some of us even have a habit of going on social media for two hours in the morning before we get ready for work.

But what makes a habit? And what breaks a habit?

Certain habits are healthy for us to have, while some are unhealthy.

In this article, we will understand what makes a habit and how you can reprogram your body to form long-lasting, healthy habits while getting rid of the toxic ones.

The science behind habit

First, let’s look into the human brain to understand better what a habit is. A habit is something that we do without thinking about it. It’s a routine, and over time it becomes automatic.

Habits produce psychological cravings that use a habit loop. There’s a trigger that results in a pattern that releases pleasure neurotransmitters in the brain, which reward us. This cycle repeats itself over and over until it becomes automatic. We’d better double-check that they’re the correct ones. And here’s the scary part: when a habit is formed, the brain stops fully engaged in decision-making.

Dopamine plays a large part in building habits, which tends to be especially true in habits that are not very healthy for you. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter released when we feel good, and it reinforces a stimulus by getting you to want more of whatever triggered the release in your brain.

The importance of habits

importance of habits

Habits play a crucial part in every aspect of your life. Whether in marriage, parenting or with your friends and family members, in work or social circles, habits infiltrate every corner of your life.

For example, suppose you have a habit of being late for everything. In that case, this will probably cause tension in your relationships with punctual people because they may feel that you don’t value their time or respect them enough to arrive on time for events.

These things can then create rifts between family members and loved ones which is why habits are so important – it’s worth identifying the excellent vs. bad patterns we have in our lives!

Over a single day, at least 40% of our activities are habits rather than genuine decisions. Over time, these habits become more entrenched in our bodies and minds, so it is essential to understand your habits before they become overly habitual.

There are simple ways to make or break these negative patterns by changing small daily actions.

How long does it take to form a habit?

While there are many different ideas and theories on how long it takes to create a habit, there is a lot more to this question than one may think.

To exemplify this point, the habit of smoking drugs can take only a few days for someone to pick up, whereas going to the gym or waking up early every morning may take much longer.

The real key to forming habits is that anything that generates strong feelings of pleasure in our brain will be learned quickly, which is why many of us already have a set of bad habits we’d want to quit.

Let’s take a look at some of the estimates in forming habits.

In 1950, Dr. Maxwell Maltz was one of the first to commit to the concept that habits are formed in 21 days. These days, this number is widely accepted and often repeated in the media.

In a real-life example of how long habits take to form, one study shows that it takes an average of 66 days for someone to go from not smoking to being fully addicted. However, certain keystone habits can be formed within 21 days, while others may take months or even years, depending on the difficulty level. 

While, as mentioned before, certain habits are easier to pick up than others, we will assume that creating a good, healthy habit can take anywhere from 21 to 254 days to form a habit properly.

The Benefits of a good habit

So how do we come up with these good habits? What makes them so effective at improving us as people?

Habits are critical to our health. They can either help or hinder us in our efforts to reach and maintain our lifestyle objectives, such as sticking to a diet, exercising regularly, managing diabetes/other medical conditions, and improving quality of life, and increasing longevity.

Habits are an effective way of improving yourself without having too many drastic changes in your regular day-to-day routine, making them so valuable.

Some benefits of these types of good daily habits include:    

  • Improved concentration      
  • Higher productivity levels                    
  • Enhances self-esteem & moods      
  • Better sleep patterns                    
  • Improved self-confidence & social lives         
  • And many more!

Why are habits so hard to break?

While we now know the benefits of good habits, let’s dive into the other side of the spectrum. Why are habits so difficult to get rid of?

The answer to this question is just as complex but boils down to how our brains work and why they form these routines in the first place.

As mentioned before, our brain creates patterns around activities that generate strong feelings in us, so we develop bad habits or good ones, in general, depending on what behaviors make us feel better about ourselves.

The problem with developing a habit like smoking, for example, is because it becomes easier to repeat an action if you have enjoyed performing it intensely at least once. This intense feeling can be caused by nicotine when smoked or even caffeine from coffee drinks.

Your body is developed to enjoy this intense sensation and will make you feel good for a short period, but in turn, it can cause long-term damage to your body.

Essentially what it boils down to is this:

Bad habits make your body feel good in the short term, so this is what your body begins to crave, making it easier for you to form a habit.

How do you break a habit?

While it is evident that habits can be beneficial, they can also be detrimental to your life. And it is not always easy to break a bad habit on our own, especially if we’ve been doing that same thing for years and have become accustomed to it.

Here, we are going to look at ten ways that you can help break a habit.

1. Identify your triggers

Identifying triggers is an essential step in breaking a habit. This is because it allows you to take control of your situation and better understand how or when this bad habit manifests itself the most.

2. Focus on why you want to change

It is also important to remember why you want to break this particular habit. Thinking about the benefits of stopping can help motivate you and keep your eyes on what you are working towards.

3. Make a plan

Making a plan for yourself that outlines when, where, how often, and who (if applicable) will be involved in breaking this bad habit is another excellent way to keep accountability within the situation, so there is less room for excuses.

4. Shift attention    

Shifting our focus away from the negative activity/thought process by finding something else to occupy these moments allows us to take control and find reward mechanisms elsewhere. Replacing negative rewards with positive ones is a great way to commit to breaking a habit.

5. Enlist a friend’s support

Sometimes, asking for help can go a long way. This can help ensure that you are holding yourself accountable for your actions and remain consistent with the plan that you have made. Often, when someone else is involved in the process, the fear of letting down another human can help you stick to your plan.

6. Find replacement habits    

While breaking or changing any habit, one excellent method of doing this is finding alternate activities that are healthier versions of those bad habits that we want to break to replace them entirely. For example, instead of smoking a cigarette after lunch every day, try going out for a walk around the block as soon as mealtime is over instead which helps improve health markers such as blood pressure levels, etc.

7. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is an excellent way of breaking a bad habit because it helps us to be aware of the actions that we are taking and why. Being more mindful about what you are doing can help you change your behavior to break this negative patterned thought process.

8. Practice positive self-talk    

We need to remember who we are as people and how our thoughts affect our feelings, which also greatly affects how other people view us. Practicing positive self-talk when changing habits or daily can have long-lasting effects on your life by helping you become an overall happier person with less stress etc.

How do you form a habit?

Now that you know how to break a habit, let’s look at ways to create new, healthy ones.

1. Start with small goals 

This is one of the essential parts of developing habits. Starting small allows you to more easily accomplish your goals while building up momentum and confidence to achieve more complex tasks.

For example, if you want to start running regularly, try committing to one day per week instead of attempting for five days straight right off the bat. This allows both your body and mind to get accustomed to this new activity, making it easier overall when forming habits.

Additionally, having small attainable objectives makes us feel like we are making progress which is another excellent way of keeping positive reinforcement within our lives. Achieving goals is another way to release small amounts of dopamine into your brain, part of the habit-building process.

2. Remain consistent but flexible

Remaining consistent is essential, but you must also make sure it does not negatively hinder your life.

For example, if you are trying to eat better, try having a cheat day once a week to begin. This allows you to have still something enjoyable while also staying consistent with the rest of your diet.

Similarly, being flexible when building new habits can help make obstacles easier to overcome efficiently. Adapting our plans allows us to be more efficient overall because we are thinking ahead, which is always essential within any process.

3. When you slip, get back on track quickly

Throughout building a habit, more times than not, you will make mistakes and slip up. This does not mean you should give up, but instead to try and get back on track as soon as possible, which can help increase your overall success rate within this process.

For example, if you are trying to eat healthier and experience a day where you slip up and eat something unhealthy like fast food for lunch, make sure that you opt for something healthy the next time it is mealtime again. 

This helps build momentum because by making small changes such as these, we feel more confident in our journey towards living healthier lives. Just remember that no one is perfect all the time, so there will always be

4. Be patient. Stick to a sustainable pace

Being patient is another important trait when it comes to building or breaking habits. For example, if you are dieting and experience a cheat day where you eat whatever your heart desires, remember that this is part of the process because results do not happen overnight.

Being patient with yourself during the entire journey towards change will help build momentum, making it easier for us to continue pushing forward until our goals have been reached. Additionally, sticking to sustainable paces makes stress less likely since we know what pace we are working at overall within this particular activity.


Habits are an essential part of our lives because they help us become happier people who are less stressed. If you want to break a habit, make sure that you understand the process before trying anything else, which can be beneficial in many ways to change your life for the better.

If you want to build new habits, try starting with small goals while remaining consistent but flexible at all times too. However, when things do go wrong, remember that is part of this journey and, if possible, get back on track quickly rather than dwelling on what happened beforehand or giving up entirely. These types of feelings will only hinder your progress even further over time instead of helping you improve yourself towards more positive outcomes!


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