How to Break Up with Bad Habits For Good

From Saboteurs to Supporters

Being motivated and charged with positive energy is the most essential prerequisite to change your life and to live your dreams. But good intentions can still be torpedoed by bad habits or a lack of self-discipline.

Learn why habits can be detrimental to your success and how you can turn saboteurs into supporters:

For example, you have the plan to open a business end of next year. You have your strategy, milestones, and your project is ready to go. But on the day that you want to write your business plan, you sit in front of your laptop, and you don’t feel like doing anything at all. The task ahead of you feels overwhelming, your confidence is low, and you start questioning yourself if the whole thing was a good idea.

Instead of writing your business plan, you scroll through your Facebook feed, skim through your emails, or check your bank account. Next thing you know, it’s 8 pm, and you’re too tired to continue “working” on your project.

Now you not only wasted a day, but you also feel guilty and foster the belief that you’re not talented or disciplined enough to reach your goals. Your self-sabotaging behavior just brought you one step closer to giving up.

In order to eliminate bad behaviors or self-destructive habits, you have to identify them first. Many things that ARE saboteurs disguise themselves as normal behaviors, mainly because “everybody is doing them.” Not long ago, it was considered rude to check your smartphone during dinner; now it’s the new normal.

Are you constantly distracted by social media?

What are your saboteurs?

To spot destructive habits, it can be helpful to check what’s holding you back from achieving your targets:

Is compulsive shopping hindering you from cutting down work hours that you would need for your purpose-driven projects?

Are bad eating habits minimizing your energy to start a side gig?

To change your habits, you need to play detective to find the culprits for your (potential) failure. One hint: bad behaviors are often repetitive, and you can find variations of them in many areas of your life.

Once you have identified your little (or big) saboteurs, pick the one that bothers you the most. Focus on changing only this one for the next week or so, because trying to change too many things at the same time will set you up for failure. 

However, before you can fight your enemies, you need to know them in detail. The following questions can help you to “profile” your saboteurs:

When are you engaging in sabotaging behavior?

Is it triggered by an event or by a feeling? For example, do you always check your social media account when you experience a mental roadblock at work? Do you always reach for snacks when you come home from work and need time for yourself? Do you smoke when you’re stressed?

Why do you engage in that behavior? What is its “purpose?”

For example, you might smoke because it calms you down. Or you distract yourself from your work because you’re scared of failure. I know this sounds twisted, but many people rather fail to finish something than finish and fail.

I often catch myself checking my emails during the time that I had previously scheduled for writing. I don’t do that because I want to read my emails. I do it because I don’t want to write. And I don’t want to write because I doubt that I will be ever successful at writing or because I am afraid that my art is not worthy enough to be read.

Sometimes our sabotaging habits are an expression of our biggest fears. That’s another reason why they’re so hard to break.

With this information in mind, you can create a “profile” for the habit that you want to change (or eliminate). Write it down. Make it very specific. So instead of only specifying the action, include information about when and why you’re doing it. For example: “snacking mindlessly between meals because I feel lonely” would be a well-profiled habit.

Don’t worry, if you still have troubles to pinpoint the “why” of your sabotaging behavior. It requires some soul-searching to get there. Consider the process as part of the solution. And if nothing comes to mind, focus on the “when” and the circumstances to start with.

Do you use cookies to give yourself a break from work?

How can you break your self- destructive habits?

Once you have identified your little (or big) saboteurs, you have to put in some hard work: “Habit” stems from the Latin word habitare, which means live, inhabit, or dwell.

According to the American Journal of Psychology, it is a “more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition and mental experience.”

Habits can be automatic, i.e., performed without thinking. A study by Wendy Wood suggests that approximately 43% of our daily behaviors are habits.

Habits are literally imprinted in our neural pathways, which is why they are so hard to break.

But it IS possible:

Changing habits is like walking through deep snow: you have to walk again and again to create a path that is easy enough to walk on.

Habits are formed by repetition, and that’s why you can only break them by repetition. However, to break the automation, we need to be aware AND mindful. That’s why the recipe to break or create habits includes the following ingredients:

Awareness, Mindfulness, Replacement, and Repetition.

Awareness & Mindfulness first:

The good news is that you already have a profile of your saboteur. This will help you to spot them. However, even if you know exactly what you’re looking for, the automatic nature of habits can still make it hard to realize that you’re engaging in them. That’s why it’s essential to be mindful of situations that trigger unwanted behaviors. You can do that by consciously slowing down whenever you’re close to the “when” of your saboteur.

Replacement second

As every (bad) habit serves a purpose, it’s tough to eliminate it. Of course, it’s best to work on the root cause that triggers the specific behavior, but until you’re able to do that, replacing a saboteur with a supporter can be a smart strategy. A “supporter” is a habit that helps you to refocus or to reenergize and thus supports you in reaching your goals.

For example, doing a movement break during work can improve your creativity and productivity.

There are three essential rules to keep in mind when selecting the replacement for your old habit:

#1 Don’t replace an unhealthy behavior with another unhealthy one. A lot of smokers start eating chocolate instead of smoking: not the best idea in the world.

#2 Find a replacement that serves the same purpose as the saboteur. For example, instead of using snacking as an excuse to take a break, do a mini-meditation or a short walk.

If you’re dealing with a saboteur that hinders your success by creating self-doubt, try to find a habit that helps you gain confidence instead. For example, replace the urge to check your social media accounts with a short visualization exercise that gets you excited to reach your goal.

#3 Try to find something that you enjoy as much as the habit that you want to get rid of. It can help to replace eating a cookie with drinking a glass of water, but it might not work as effectively. So, try to find something that you enjoy as much as cookies. I know that this is particularly hard, but maybe listening to your favorite song can do the trick?

You need something rewarding to overcome the break-up with your beloved old behavior.

Repetition third

According to a UCL study, it can take anywhere from 18–254 days to change a habit. That’s why you have to practice your new behavior for quite some time until it becomes a habit.

Give yourself time. Every time you engage in the new habit is a win. Tackle one day at a time.

If you’re dealing with a chronic habit that’s 90% automated, you can also try to add in some practice sessions. Create a trigger situation and replace the sabotaging habit with a healthy one.

It’s like training for a sport: athletes don’t only practice to avoid mistakes, they train new movement patterns until they’re automated.

If you’re interested in learning more about the mental success strategies of athletes, click HERE for a post with more insights.

Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit which, repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex.
Norman Vincent Peale

In good health,

Find more ideas for improved health and happiness on my Medium publication Wellness Decoded.


Rike Aprea

My name is Friederike Aprea. Most people call me Rike. I'm German-born and have lived and worked in Japan and Korea before I moved to the US. I coach individuals and companies using the principles of Kaizen. Whether you want to live a more purpose-driven life, improve your health, or change the business model of your company: Kaizen can get you there. Step by step. Day by day.

You may also like...