How to Break a Bad Habit

Posted March 26, 2014 by Rebecca Niziol in On the Ladder

As humans we are creatures of habit. We create them out of necessity, to bring simplicity to a rather chaotic world, and to allow our brain to focus on one of the other 10,000 things going on in our lives. When a habit is formed, it allows us to for a period of time go on auto-pilot. We begin to know that thought, feeling, or behavior so well that it becomes second nature.

Habit is a wonderful thing, when it’s used properly. Once formed, a habit can go on mostly unconscious for years. This means you are likely unaware of what you’re doing, and not making a choice. Just like that a habit you picked up years ago, maybe even as a child, is repeated over and over. With time it’s begins to set in stone, and becomes hard to break (or worse, even notice!).

When you let habits reign, you let your past dictate your future.


You career girls don’t strike me as the type that wants to let some past behaviors control you future. So let’s work through the basics on how to break the cycle of habits, and create new healthier ones to replace them. Habits die hard because on some level they fulfill your basic needs. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t stick around. These are the 6 basic human needs, as given by Tony Robbins.

  1. Certainty – the need to ensure avoiding pain and gaining pleasure.
  2. Uncertainty – the need for adventure and variety.
  3. Significance – the need for attention and power.
  4. Love/Connection – the need for belonging.
  5. Growth – the need for advancement and improvement.
  6. Contribution – the need to serve/give.

Imagine every morning before work you stop into the donut shop around the corner from your office. You pick up a cup of coffee and a small box of goodies to bring in for yourself and others to enjoy. This may have become a habit because it fulfills many need. There’s a sense of certainty and comfort in knowing that every morning that coffee and box of treats is waiting for you. Your interaction with the people in the shop and co-workers at your office give you a feeling of community and connection. You may feel a sense of significance that comes from being the provider of said baked goods, and receive attention for your daily gift. You are also contributing something to those around you, which fulfills one more need.

If more than two of your needs are met a habit or addiction is likely formed, and is going to stick around for a long time unless you find a better way to meet your needs. So if your high calorie morning contribution is fulfilling you needs, and also adding to your waistline you might want to consider breaking this cycle and creating a new more beneficial habit.

The first step is to become aware of your habits. Only when it’s recognized can you begin to let it go. Take a moment now to consider what habits you are currently looped into at work, in your relationships, with food, and any other area of your life.

Next, evaluate which habits are working for you (and therefore you want to keep utilizing). It is rewarding to recognize what you’re already doing that’s working really well. That afternoon run club on Tuesdays and Thursdays might be doing wonders! Your morning calls to your Mom might do an excellent job in meeting your needs and prepping you to rock your day.

Once you know what habits you want to keep locked in for now, turn your focus to the habits that aren’t serving you. This means even though they might meet many of your needs, on some level they cause pain, discomfort, or exhaustion for you or others. If you want to continue meeting the same needs, but without the adverse effects you’ll need to break your habit cycle be forming a new habit.

Pick one of the habits you’d like to bust through, and figure out which of the 6 needs it meets. Then identify the pain point that’s causing you to desire a change in some way. Begin to consider your options: How can you still meet the same needs, in a new way?

Let’s go back to the donut example. The needs for certainty, significance, connection, and contribution we’re all being met. Yet, we realized that it might not be the best habit for achieving the health goals you set for yourself. This step can be really fun, because there are so many possible ways to recreate your habit. Perhaps you set up a morning tea/coffee club, alternative who brings in the beverages. Maybe you organize an office morning yoga class, and that’s your way of contributing, connecting, feeling significant, and knowing what to expect those mornings. Have fun with this step… you might surprise yourself with a super fun, effective, and beneficial new habit.

You want to be sure you are choosing the habits you cycle through. If you learned the habit at some point, and it’s no longer in alignment with who you are and what you want… ditch it. Create a new more empowering habit!

It’s time to let go of the habits your formed as a kid to fit in. It’s time to release the habits that keep you seeking attention and praise. It’s time to free yourself from the habits that doubt and limit yourself. It’s time break the cycle, and allow a new habit to emerge.

About the Author

Rebecca Niziol

Rebecca Niziol, ELI-MP, is many things: a life coach, yoga teacher, dancer, event planner, connection catalyst, and your new best friend. Her mission is to empower others to live the authentic life of their dreams. After years of traveling North America and Europe, she is happy to have found a home and community in Chicago.