4 Therapist Tips on How to Break Bad Habits

by Rebecca Norris

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Now that 2020 is officially here, you’re probably thinking about your intentions for the new year. One such item on your list might be breaking bad habits that came to fruition in 2019 (or have been brewing even longer). Maybe it’s nail biting, chronic lateness, not feeling productive, or something more harmful to your well-being. In order to find the most success with a resolution for breaking bad habits, it helps to have an action plan in place.

What better way to set one up than with the help of a professional? Right? Right. That’s why we sat down with NYC-based therapist Mariel Mangold, LCSW. Ahead, discover her top four steps for breaking bad habits and starting 2020 on the right foot.

Woman with bad habit of eating in the car while looking at her phone

How to Break Bad Habits, According to a Therapist

1. Identify the bad habit

Before finding ways to break a bad habit, you must first look at your life and consider how your actions affect yourself and others. According to Mariel, a bad habit is anything, big or small, that negatively impacts your life or the people in it. Once you choose which habit (or habits) you’d like to get rid of, you’re ready to move on to step two.

2. Determine what’s driving the bad habit

Whether it’s not opening mail, letting to-do lists add up, not making your bed, or avoiding tough conversations (among many more potentially bad habits), Mariel urges us to consider the why. “I ask: How does it serve them?” she starts. “Could it be the result of untreated anxiety or depression? A symptom of something bigger going on in their lives that they need to discuss and process? What are they trying to avoid? How do they feel about this habit? Does it make them feel shame? Nothing? Proud? How has it impacted their life and loved ones?” By processing the answers to these questions and understanding your motivations better, Mariel says that you can take back control over your life and not allow the habit to make you feel helpless.

3. Change your narrative

When you’ve been struggling with a bad habit for a while, it’s easy to assume that it’s something that’ll always be a part of your life. However, that type of thinking is exactly what perpetuates these better-forgotten qualities. Instead, Mariel urges us to imagine a day when we have, in fact, overcome the habit. “Envision it the way you wish it would be and then figure out steps to take to make it happen,” she suggests.

4. Don’t wait to start

As enticing as it may be to start your new routine on a Monday or the first of the month, Mariel advocates that we don’t wait. “I think it’s very important to always remember that you don’t need to break a bad habit or start a good habit on a Monday or in the morning,” she says. Instead, when you decide to change a behavior, you should start right then and there, no matter the circumstance. “Strike while the iron is hot and don’t feel discouraged if you have a relapse,” she encourages. “We all have ups and downs, good days and bad. But if you focus on your goal and don’t lose sight, eventually you’ll reach it.”

And don’t forget: It never hurts to have a supportive circle of friends and family who can cheer for you on your journey to a better self and healthier habits. Mariel offers this final reminder: “Whether the habit is something minor or major, it’s always nice to have someone rooting for us, there to celebrate our accomplishments and encourage us on days we feel we’re failing.”

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