As I was reading about breaking habits, the rule of thumb seemed to be that if you can avoid doing the undesired behavior anywhere from 21 to 30 days, then you will be rid of it.

That didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

If that were true, then alcoholics with a lengthy span of sobriety would not relapse.

Weight loss success stories would not suddenly gain weight at the mercy of the same old habits.

That’s when I started researching how to break habits, the scientific way.

There are two very important facts that I learned:

1. While the brain pathways that result from a repeated activity can wear down over time with lessened use, they will not go away.
2. These pathways can relatively easily be reactivated with the slightest “trigger.”

With this new understanding, I was determined to discover ways to focus on changing the existing habits (instead of trying to break the unbreakable) by using a “switch” and avoiding the fateful “trigger.”

These are a few of the methods that I’ve found that really seem to help as I’ve worked on changing some of my less than impressive habits.

* Start Small
* Lose Focus
* Wear a Reminder
* One at a Time
* Be Accountable

This is how each one of these methods works:

* Start Small – Changing a habit can not involve an “All or Nothing” mentality.

Practice Example:
Cutting out the daily deluge of soft drinks might start with limiting oneself to one in the morning and a second in the afternoon, making sure to drink plenty of water in between. Then you can slowly work your way down to just one in the morning, staying strong until you have cut them out completely.

The Switch:
Coffee offers many health-related benefits, as has been determined by countless studies. Training oneself to substitute coffee for a soft drink in the morning will not only give you a much needed jump start on the day, but might even help lessen the risk for type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and even strokes.

Avoidable Trigger:
Sweets as well as sweetened drinks are scientifically shown to be triggers that cause people to crave soft drinks. Therefore, drinking water and limiting snacks should be the end goal for someone who is struggling with this issue.

Other Uses:
The working-your-way-down method is also great for snacking, smoking, overeating, drinking, and excessive shopping.

* Lose Focus – If you find that you are just about to take part in an undesirable habit, change your environment immediately.

Practice Example:
If you are headed into the kitchen to grab a snack that you don’t need, immediately turn around and do something else…anything else.

The Switch:
Change your focus by doing something as simple as fluffing pillows on the sofa, opening blinds throughout the house, folding a load of laundry, or checking your email or text messages…just get out of the kitchen.

Avoidable Trigger:
If you are accustomed to snacking at a certain time every day, change up your schedule so that you are engaged in an activity that does not have you in the vicinity of food at that time.

Other Uses:
Losing focus to deter a behavior can also work for people with hot tempers, social media obsessions, online gambling tendencies, and excessive TV-watching habits.

* Wear a Reminder – Once an undesired behavior has been identified, wear a reminder on your person that will help keep you on track.

Practice Example:
If you know that your teen’s constant arguing and talking back is going to get a rise out of you, wear a heavy, eye-catching, inexpensive ring on your finger (something that you aren’t use to feeling and seeing) that will be a constant reminder of what is important as you seek to constructively and effectively deal with situations.

The Switch:
Instead of looking at the ring and thinking, “Stay calm,” which might unfortunately prepare you for a bad situation that may never happen, look at the ring and think, “I really love this child and am happy about the person they are learning to become.”

Avoidable Trigger:
If homework and grades are causing these stress points, quickly find workable solutions to the problems. For example, I developed a Homework Log which has greatly helped with school-related issues within our family.

Other Uses:
Training yourself to mentally link an unfamiliar item that is on your person with an undesired behavior is relatively easy to do. Other examples of bad habits that can be quickly impacted by using this method are people who: speed while driving, pick at or bite their fingernails, forget a daily chore, spend too much time on the phone, and never seem to get dressed for the day. There’s nothing like a flashy piece of jewelry to remind you that you are in holey sweat pants!

* One at a Time – Trying to change a whole lifestyle at once can not only be frustrating, but it leads to certain failure. Put all of your time and energy into changing one habit, until you have it under control, then embark on your next ranking priority.

Practice Example:
While most people feel that they have a relatively good marriage, issues that arise may often times be the result of a lack of effective communication. Make up your mind to close this loophole.

The Switch:
Instead of using the same failed strategies repeatedly to open the lines of communication and hoping for a different result, try abandoning any previous techniques that have not worked and substitute them with new, action-oriented ideas to try going forward.

One example of a strategy that can infuriate both spouses is endlessly talking about issues and heatedly discussing varying points-of-view. Most often, neither spouse responds positively to this technique, yet people keep using it.

A different strategy to try…just make a simple, but sincere statement about what you absolutely need from each other and move forward. End of discussion.

Avoidable Trigger:
Recognizing that some issues may need to be discussed in further detail, but understanding that there is probably a more ideal time and place, set aside time in the near future (later in the day or in the week) to tackle the issue. By then, it may have resolved itself, or at the very least you will have both had time to think logically through solutions before coming together.

Other Uses:
Trying to change only one habit at a time is ideal and should work in most instances. Spreading yourself too thin causes frustration for not only yourself, but everyone around you who doesn’t understand the sudden change in personality and lifestyle.

* Be Accountable – Once you have made up your mind to change a habit, let someone close to you know about your personal quest and ask them to help keep you on track.

Practice Example:
Rather it be due to work, countless home responsibilities or just idle play, a problem for many is the amount of time that they spend being physically inactive. Once you have decided to change this habit, enlist a good friend or close family member to help you.

The Switch:
Instead of relying on an opening in your schedule for you to get in a quick workout, make a standing “appointment” with your confidant to get some exercise together. This can be any time of the day or night, but it needs to practical, possible and simple to meet with them. You might even consider talking on the phone while you workout from afar “together.”

Avoidable Trigger:
Understand that backing out on your confidant is not an option. Schedule time that is truly workable and discuss back up plans upfront in case of an extreme circumstance where you can’t meet. Just get up and do it. Being tired, cold, in a bad mood and the wealth of other excuses that we come up with aren’t doing us any favors.

Other Uses:
This method should be used when the behavior you want to change is worth you embarrassing yourself, if you don’t. Once you “announce” that there is something you don’t like about yourself, you are not only going to draw attention to that potential flaw, but you are going to look weak or like a flake when you don’t successfully do something about it. Maybe the more people you let know, the better.

In my research, I learned that while I can not break a bad habit, I can work to modify it through substitutions and by avoiding triggers.

These practice examples are just to explain how a method can be used properly.

Most of them, if not all of them, can be applied to one issue to ensure a change in habit.

I hope that there are some different ideas in here that help you with whatever your struggles may be.

Here’s to another Inspired Minute!

Author's Bio: 

Hi there! My name is Tracey and I’m on a mission to turn average days at home into meaningful minutes. I’m a wife, mother of 3 and an Inspired Life Blogger. This is my journey to create ways to save time, maximize money, creatively organize, craft, gift, and decorate and humbly volunteer. Please visit my blog at for ideas and tips that I hope will inspire you!