How to break bad habits and develop good habits

© Leo Prieto

Why is it, that with so much health information easily available to us, we aren’t getting the health and vitality we deserve?

The simple answer is that in general, we know what we need to change.

We might be a bit hazy on the finer details, due to the confusing messages sent out by the health information industry.

But even so, we know we should exercise, eat more fruit and vegetables and so-on.

We know why too. We want to feel like we did when we were kids. Endless amounts of energy to spend! We want to feel good about ourselves. And we want to be attractive, happy, fun-loving, life-loving people…

The missing link is HOW!

Somehow we lose focus, or don’t have enough will-power. Sometimes we can get started but can’t sustain our efforts and so-on. Whatever the reasons, the statistics tell a sobering tale…

Successful change is rare. Especially on the big stuff, such as getting enough exercise, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking and losing weight. Our attempts to change our ways are fraught with obstacles.

In the main, those obstacles are inner obstacles — we are stuck, stuck, stuck with a little bit of ‘stuck’ thrown in. I love this analogy of self-destructive habits…

“A fly in a pitcher plant is, at the beginning eating the plant. At some imperceptible point, the plant is eating the fly.”

Habit rules the world!

Another of my favorite quotes is…

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
— Aristotle

There is immense wisdom in these few words. What we repeatedly do, defines us like no other definition. Imagine your dream life and then think of your life now. The difference largely amounts to ‘doing.’ In your dream life, you’d be doing different stuff than you’re doing now.

Even if you imagine that in your dream life, you’ll just be happy, then you still need to ‘do’ stuff routinely to support that state of happiness — a healthy diet, regular exercise and sleep, perhaps regular meditation and so-on. Our repeated ‘doing’ is either constructive or destructive but the force behind it is the same — the subtle and very powerful force of habit.

Harness this force and you are truly the master of your own destiny. All our lives resemble ‘ground-hog day’ to some extent. They have to otherwise we’d have no structure, no mental map as to what’s going on. We’d be inefficient with no sense of purpose.

I struggled for many years with the idea of routine. I thought it meant being boring — I had images of a grey man in a grey suit going to work at the same time on a grey day talking to grey people about grey things. But that’s just the grey version.

There’s a sunny yellow version too — a different version where the routine stuff is actually fun or doing stuff you’re passionate about. Routine is your friend. After all, the sun comes up in the morning and goes down at night. Your body thrives best on solid healthy habits.

If your routine supports health then you’re much more likely to be happy. If it doesn’t then you won’t be — it’s that simple. Not only that, but joy and spontaneity come from being in the flow of “now.” The routines of life allow us to forget the grey boring stuff.

So, how do you get from where you are now, to create the habits that support your highest dreams? The answer is that you need ‘The 3 C’s.’ Here’s HOW…

The three C’s

These are the three extremely important ingredients you’ll need in the recipe for successful change and they are…

Clarity, Commitment and Consistency

You’ll need to be extremely clear about the what, why and how of your intended change. That clarity and understanding will help you to gain commitment. It’s said that “Without commitment there is dithering.” So before you make a change you’ll want to be extremely clear and extremely committed.

It’s all about getting into the right frame of mind and believing 100% you can do it. Armed with that power, you’ll be able to take action consistently, step by step straight to your target without looking back. It’s about choosing carefully each step, so that you don’t go too far out of your comfort zone and it’s about overcoming fear of change and having no doubts.

Doubt or “dithering” is one of the greatest obstacles to change. I know that what’s holding many people back from feeling great is this ability to control habits, see their goals clearly and be highly motivated.

Seven top habit-busting tips

  1. Plan it! The first thing to do is figure out your lifestyle blueprint. What’s your happy and healthy finish-line?
  2. Wise up! Be sure your goals will truly make you happy by knowing the difference between pleasure, happiness and joy. In my experience, most folks are mainly pleasure seeking. There’s nothing wrong with pleasure — I’m not a party pooper but the very nature of pleasure is that it’s temporary. On its own, it can’t bring lasting happiness.
  3. Be firm but fair. Develop will-power by learning to say a quiet but very firm ‘NO!’ to destructive internal triggers. Expect an emotional backlash when you say ‘NO!’ to your ‘programming,’ but don’t worry, it soon gets easy.
  4. Learn how NOT to do something. The secret is distraction. When you feel an urge to do something ‘bad,’ try saying to yourself ‘I will in a minute, I’ll just do [x] first.’ It works a treat! Another great tip is to say to yourself ‘No, I’m not doing that, I don’t want to go backwards.’ It really does give you a little injection of will-power.
  5. Be trigger happy. Notice any triggers that prompt your bad habits. Create new triggers for good habits by linking a new behavior you want to something you already do.
  6. Learn to meditate. Meditation, along with its practical counterpart “mindfulness” is the single most powerful life changing habit to get into. It gets rid of destructive behavior by getting to the true and deep rooted cause — our identification with thought. Sounds heavy I know but it’s really not. You’ll soon come to realize that your meditation time is the sanest part of your day!
  7. Just do it! By the time you’ve done a bit of planning you’ll be chomping at the bit, highly motivated and believing you can overcome all your inner demons!

There was a young man who said, “Damn
At last I perceive that I am
But a creature that moves
In determinate grooves:
I’m not even a bus — I’m a tram!”
— Anonymous

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Michael Kinnaird is the author of Happy Guide, the result of a 20 year exploration into what works for health and happiness.

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7 thoughts on “How to break bad habits and develop good habits

  1. Dear Mike Kinnaird,

    The article is so nice and beneficial to quit any bad habit. Many people damn luck because it doesn’t help them be as [ X ] the lucky person. Rather than sigh watching others, they would watch their habits to achieve ambition and do their best following the mentioned steps.

    Luck is inside us. We should work hard to trigger it help us.


  2. I’ve been reading and re-reading this post. It perfectly encapsulates something I see every day in clinic. We are more knowledgeable about health and diet than we’ve ever been. The majority of people I come into contact with know what they need to do to eat well and be healthy and yet so many just don’t have the wellbeing and vitality they want. If that’s you, read this post.


  3. Hi Carla! I’m intrigued — tell me about “My Many colored days.” And also why routine = death :)

    Well James and I tried really hard to do 3 X’s but all we could come up with was Xylophone Xenon and Xenophobia. We’re just trying to figure out how fear of foreigners can help change habits but when we do, we’re really on to something! :)

    Yeah, the 3 c’s is quite cheesy eh. I guess stuff like this is suppose to help people remember but whenever I talk about it I’ll say “you know, just like the 3 C’s — clarity, consistency and… the other C!” Oh well. I think I’ve got it nailed now :)

    Take care,


  4. Mike,

    Sounds like you have been reading some Dr. Seuss ‘My Many Colored Days!’ hahaha! :)

    Really pray tell WHY everyone always comes up with their handy dandy 3 C’s ???? How about starting a new trend: 3 X’s or Z’s or something?!

    Can you tell breaking habits is the bane of my existence!?! Actually what on earth do people do who can NOT! do the SAME thing 2 days in a row! Routine=DEATH. But you know I have to have everything in its spot on my desk; and all junk cleared from all surfaces so hmmmm. clearly I do have some routines! Thanks for the great article! I hate the topic but realize it is truly my missing link :)

    have a happy weekend!


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