Breaking Bad Habits: Three Easy Steps

Guest article by Karen Keller, PhD

There are a number of things to quit: Smoking, overeating, fibbing, ignoring reality, gossiping, over-working … just to name a few.  When facing your bad habits, it’s your drive to succeed that keeps you from their clenches. It’s these bad habits that affect your satisfaction and fulfillment.

You recognize your unhealthy habit but something compels you to stick with it.  What makes it hard to quit?  Well, habitual behavior changes the neuron activity patterns in your brain where habits are formed.  The good news is you can form new habits!  The bad news is when a stimulus, (calorie-laden chocolate cake) from the old days returns, the latent neuron pattern reestablishes itself – making you almost go on autopilot!

Because the brain retains the ‘habit’ memory, it can be triggered if the right cues come back.  It takes 21 days to create a new habit.  In order to make that change it’s important to watch out for the triggers that encourage the old habits to return.  But there are 3 things you can do to erase those habits:

  1. Give yourself permission to ignore the bad habit.  You are quite capable of knowing when you are out of control, stuck or causing yourself a problem.  Leaving your decisions to another person, or trigger, only serves to dis-empower yourself resulting in low self esteem.  Empower yourself.  Set your course for making change.  Go for the 21 day challenge – invite a healthy habit into your life.
  2. Break out from your comfort zone.  Take a risk to stop avoiding risk – things that may be uncomfortable.  What opportunities are you missing by being afraid of venturing into the unknown?  Make a list of ten ‘bad-habit-breaking’ or ‘good-for-you’ things you have backed away from this past year.  Develop a plan to approach the top 3 on your list – vowing to successfully make your way through them.  Let yourself experience the unfamiliar, getting acquainted with your own sense of courage.
  3. Know when to leave good enough alone.  Leave that last bit of juicy gossip on the tip of your tongue.  Put aside the dessert menu.  And when you are hitting your head against the wall constantly trying for the next promotion, that seems to somehow land in everyone else’s lap, giving it all you have, and coming up empty handed, then it’s time to leave. The habit of accepting not being valued or appreciated falls under the umbrella of ‘bad habit.’  Exit with your head held high.  Knowing when to quit is the first step toward finding what’s worthy of your time and talent.

Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to be a ‘quitter’.  The tough part is recognizing you’re committing a destructive behavior and then take that next crucial step to actually break the cycle and quit whatever habit is causing the self destruction.

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks if you just take the time to unlearn an habitual behavior.

Influence and persuasion expert, Karen Keller, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and Master Certified Coach with over 25 years of experience. She focuses on women’s leadership and empowerment as well as executive, personal, relationship and life coaching. Get a free subscription to her newsletter, “Influence It! Real Power for Women Now” at




  1. Patty

    Great article. Informative. Unlearning something can be difficult. Thanks for the insightful tips!

  2. Fred

    Love it! Thank you for this inspiring article!

    Fred from Sweden