Smoking, procrastinating, overeating and worrying are all examples of bad habits that we’d all like to get rid of. Each and every habit has a psychological reason behind it and why we pursue it – this is where behavioral psychology kicks in. And understanding the why is a step in the right direction as breaking up with old habits and starting new, good ones is never an easy task. Try telling a heavy smoker friend to quit smoking and you’ll see exactly what we mean.

Because we’ve held on to our old habits for so long, they’ve become the norm. So we keep up with them, settling for something that may feel comfortable when really it’s detrimental. The good news is that through awareness and teaching ourselves to invest in new, positive behaviors, it is possible to form new habits and break free from old ones. These tips will help you along the way.

As with anything, the first step is to recognize and accept the fact that we are engaging in a bad habit. To recognize your bad habits you need to be aware of the root causes that are bringing negativity into your life. It does not have to be something physical, such as smoking or overeating – it could be something as simple as constant worry or self-doubt that is bringing stress and negativity into your life. Identification and recognition of bad habits is essential.

Reward Yourself In Other Ways
After identification and recognition, we need to begin understanding why we continue to engage in those habits. Typically, there is a reward that we get. According to behavioral psychology, all of our behavior is either rewarded or punished and that determines whether this behavior will be repeated or not. For example, if your bad habit is overeating, the reward may be a feeling of satisfaction that is distracting you from another more pressing problem. If you procrastinate, you are rewarded with a short-term increase in free time, but this may cause long-term dissatisfaction.

So the key is to find out what the reward is and whether or not there is another way to satisfy it.

Enforce a Punishment (Or Remove a Reward)
The next step it to remove the reward, or enforce a punishment that will result in you beginning to discontinue your bad habit. Always think of a punishment that is strong enough to not make you go back to your bad habit. Punishments differ from one person to another so be wise when applying your punishment making sure that it is something feasible and that you can actually commit to. For example, if you overeat, aim to give up sweets for one week. If you procrastinate, give up watching your favorite TV show for the rest of the week. You will require willpower for this step. You have to commit to either imposing a punishment or taking away a desired reward when you relapse. The reward or punishment you choose should be related to the habit.

Substitute a Better Habit
By figuring out the reward you get from your bad habit the best thing to do is to take up a new habit that offers a similar reward without the downside of your old habit. One of the most common examples is about those who are aiming to quit smoking. By taking up exercise instead, they can replace the positive reinforcement of nicotine with the positive reinforcement of endorphins that are released when undertaking any kind of physical activity.

Write Down Your Goals
Writing down your goals has a very powerful effect on the mind. It is a constant reminder of the things you want to change and accomplish and makes it more realistic and believable to yourself. It is always better to write your goals down or tell others about them because this makes it more likely for you to commit them, rather than just thinking about them.