How Do You Change Bad Habits?

I was reading Theoricus’ post on motivation and he mentioned habits. I picked up my copy of Jack Canfield’s “Success Principles” to review what he said about habits. He recommended making a list of your unproductive/negative habits and then replacing them with productive success habits and developing systems that support them.

He also recommended getting help from friends/family/coworkers/(subscribers? πŸ™‚ ) to identify what they thought were limiting habits.

Once you make this list of bad habits, the goal is to replace them with good habits. Pretty simple right? Not so simple.

Changing Too Many Habits A Once Is A Bad Habit

The last thing Mr. Canfield mentioned was working on 4 new habits a year. Yep, work on one new habit every 3 months. That seems like way too few right? Like you should be adding a new habit every couple weeks or so. Well… It never seems to work out that way (for me anyway). I recently decided to start doing a bunch of things on a daily basis and track how well I kept up with it. The list was:

  • Take my medication
  • Brush, Floss and Rinse Teeth (Yeah… This should have been a habit already. πŸ˜› )
  • Meditate
  • Track My Expenses
  • Practice Taichi
  • Read
  • Run/Practice BJJ
  • Eat Breakfast
  • Write

I only kept a good track record with four of the things. Taking my medication (perfect!), tracking my money, brushing my teeth (missed a day) and writing. I also did pretty good with reading, but only recently. What’s interesting about all of these habits is that they’re habits that I’ve already formed in the past and I’m just bringing them back to the surface… Well, except for brushing my teeth EVERY day. THAT is a new habit in the process (yay!)

So I think Jack is on to something when he mentions focusing on one habit at a time.

21 Days Is A Myth

So you decide to work on one, maybe 2 new habits at a time. How long does it take? Ever hear the line about it taking 21 days? Well according to a post on the PsyBlog (citing this study) it takes a lot longer than 21 days (on average). It actually takes 66 days (on average) to develop a new habit, and the range is anywhere from 18 days to 254 days. There also appears to be a subgroup of people who have a harder time developing a habit than others do.

Looks like Jack might not be too far off again with saying 90 days vs the usual 21-30. So now we get into the meat and potatoes of it.

Note: Missing a day isn’t a big deal like some people think.

How Do You Change Bad Habits?

Well… I can give you the Cliff’s Notes of what Jack C. said:

  • List your bad habits and find a “success habit” to replace them with
  • Work on one at a time for 90 days at a time
  • Put up reminders all over the place so you don’t forget (have friends remind you, setup email/phone alerts, etc.)
  • Apply the 100% policy to it (do it NO MATTER WHAT!)

I’m going to take the all of the above information and modify it for myself. The goal is to turn things into a habit. Something that you do pretty much automatically and it feels funny when you don’t do it (it was last night that I didn’t brush my teeth and I felt… gross for not doing it. πŸ˜€ ).

First I’m going to get into the habit of tracking my habits. I’m currently using to track my habits, but anything would work (pen and paper, another website, etc.)

I’m going to use reminders for the habits I’m actively working on (post-it notes, email reminders, etc.)

I’m going to experiment with working on more than one habit at a time. Perhaps I’ll have one “minor” and one “major” habit. Like running every would be a major habit and perhaps eating breakfast everyday would be a minor one.

Then finally I’ll determine when something is a habit based on “feeling” instead of an arbitrary number like 21 or 90. If something takes 200 days to set it, then it takes 200 days. If something only takes 20, great. πŸ˜€


At the end of the day, it looks like creating new habits isn’t as simple as people are fooled into believing it is. This probably makes it even HARDER to form new habits since you start with an unrealistic view of the amount of work that will be required to create a new habit.

I’m going to skip my weekly “Pwning Life” update this week and pick it up next week. I still keep an offline journal though. πŸ™‚ I think I’m going to move all of the pwning life updates to a separate blog and bring the focus of this one back to random thoughts over the next few weeks.

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7 Responses to How Do You Change Bad Habits?

  1. sandra says:

    great post and timely for me too.

  2. Penney Morse says:

    About that book you keep referring to, I think it was someone else’s book first—but it looks like you’re putting it to better use:)

  3. Magdalicious says:

    I can confirm.. that while 30 days is a good start it’s very easy to fall out of the habit still. I think what people are trying to suggest with 21days or 30 days is that it’s no longer difficult or a challenge to do something after you have done it consistently for a month. It FEELs like a habit, it’s not yet, but we feel comfortable doing what ever ‘it’ may be often.

    The difference is, as you said, a real habit it something you feel ‘off’ when you DON’T do. For example, I am in the excuses stages of why I don’t go running, not a habit, or at least a bad habit. But with tracking my money, I was a week behind and I couldn’t take it anymore daunting or not it had to be done, but that is something I have been doing almost every day for the past 4 years.

  4. maugrassia says:

    Developing Systems That Support Them

    Basically, environment-based behavioral psychology. πŸ™‚ So if you want to eat healthy, throw out/give away all the crap/junk food in the house, and buy all healthy food. Read more? Place books around the house, perhaps an open book here and there, and then eliminate all other distractions (definitely easier to read instead of web-surf if you stack books in front of the screen, and have an open book you’ve been reading for a while). Learning Mandarin? All books, all cd’s, operating system (computer), web sites, television, dvd’s, you name it: in Mandarin Chinese.

    Basically, in essence, set up an environment where it’s much easier to do what you want to do, and much harder to do what you’re trying to stop doing.

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