The 6 ‘R’s to Breaking Bad Habits


By Justin Ho

This article explains how habits are formed and gives 6 steps that you can follow to break old habits and also start new ones.

“Stop biting your nails,” my mom would always say as I chewed away at the keratin structures growing at the tips of my fingers.

If you’re like me, you may have a bad habit you’d like to change

Though some habits have been more difficult to completely remove, I’ve had some success with changing some. This is how I did it.

How Habits are Formed

You form a habit when you repeat a specific action in a specific setting.

I bite my nails particularly when I’m thinking deeply about things that I need to get done, when I study, or when there is something nerve racking on television.

Habits need a specific stimulus to trigger that specific response. This neuronal connection made between your brain and the stimulus becomes a powerful cue for you to perform the action.

“It’s also difficult to have a habit not form when you get a reward for what you’re doing,” stated in an MIT study on the neuroscience behind habits. Once the behavior is established, other studies have shown that the brain doesn’t need to be rewarded.

The way the brain reacts to recurrent stimulus is that it essentially prepares your mind for the stimulus. Once your brain becomes used to a stimulus and the accompanying response, it will begin to prepare for that stimulus. this is why your body naturally defaults to performing the habit, it prepares your mind for the stimulus so you unconsciously respond a specific way.

My green blanket made me suck my thumb

Growing up, I would always have my thumb in my mouth. The habit lasted way longer that than it should have and my parents were concerned, primarily because thumb sucking leads to poor teeth structure. I had a green blanket that I would always hold when I sucked my thumb. It was one of those cute relationships where I wouldn’t go anywhere without my green blanket.


When I had that blanket, my thumb was in my mouth.

My parents took away my blanket. I was pissed. But I stopped sucking my thumb.

The 6 R’s to Breaking Bad Habits

1. Recognize

The first thing you need to do is be real with yourself. Acknowledge the fact that the habit is bad and begin finding where the habit stems from.

My parents realized I had a thumb sucking problem and that the blanket was a consistent factor involved.

2. Remove or Replace

Remove or replace the discovered stimulus from the familiar environment. The environment is a huge contributing factor for how the brain reacts to stimuli. As stated earlier, your surroundings are triggers for the habit.

My parents removed the blanket I had, and I stopped sucking my thumb. It worked. Now I’m happy without a thumb in my mouth.

In other cases you can replace the stimuli with something similar. This is why you find people who smoke cigarettes use lollipops or flavored toothpicks to break that cycle.

3. Record

Write down your habit, research the causes for it, and how you’re going to erase it.

I’ve heard that it takes 30 days to get rid or form a new habit. What really matters is understanding that it’ll take some time and consistency to successful break a habit.

Writing things down will keep yourself accountable for your actions. It is a constant visual reminder that you need to stay on course.

At the beginning of August, I read a Forbes article on what successful people did before I was even awake. Inspired, I decided to start waking up at 6am. It was incredibly tough, but I have since been waking up naturally at 7am. In order to form this habit, I wrote it down and created a daily schedule to be home early so I could sleep early and wake up early. I was able to create this new habit to break my habit of sleeping late and waking up late.

4. Remind

Find ways to remind yourself to stop yourself from doing the habit. Habits are normally performed automatically without the person even realizing it. Tell your friends to call you out whenever they find you performing the bad habit. The third party reminder is a huge help.

I knew a elementary school teacher, who had her students raise their hands and tell her to sit up straight whenever she was slouching over with bad posture.

5. Reward

Find a beneficial reason to stop the habit.

I had an issue where I was getting sick way to regularly. I started to touch my face less when around people because I volunteered at hospital and interacted ill patients. Your hands touch random hand rails, tables, chairs, etc, and when you touch your face your hand transfers those bacteria cells. I told myself that if I didn’t touch my face I wouldn’t get sick. Now, I don’t get sick as often.

6. Routine

Whether I routinely do something different to change my bad habits, or do something routinely to create a new good habit, the bad habit will be masked. Make it a daily thing to accomplish or check upon your habitual behavior.

Eating breakfast is incredibly important everyday, and I didn’t do that my 4 years in college. It was about time that I start treating my body better and start eating a healthy breakfast. Along with my 7am get up time, I developed a routine where I’d go to the kitchen press my coffee and make my kale, spinach, berry, banana, orange juice smoothie.

This process is definitely easier said than done, but the results are priceless. These are the steps that I took that really helped me kick some bad habits. Honestly maybe not all of them are necessary for you. Give them a try and let us know how it worked out!

Are we missing anything? Do you have more tips that can help other readers? What habit are you trying to break? Let us know by leaving a comment below!


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NPR: Habits How They Form and How to Break Them

WebMD: Breaking Habits

Media Sources: Breaking Bad, Charlie Brown, Linkin Park


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