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Would you like to quit your bad habits?  Do you struggle to adopt new and better ones? We get stuck in a pattern of behaviour and don’t seem to be able to break free from them.  The secret is understanding how our brains work and working with it rather than trying to fight it with sheer willpower.  Learn how below.


We have a built in reward circuit that can be our friend or our enemy.  The trick is to make it our best friend.  The famous behavioural psychologist BF Skinner identified three crucial phases that are required to start or stop habits:

  1. Stimulus – The trigger for the habit – We get in from work and go to the fridge

  2. Behaviour – The actual habit itself is performed – Take out and drink a bottle of beer or glass of wine

  3. Reward – We get a buzz or feel good after having performed the habit – We get a feeling of release or buzz from the alcohol

The question is do we need to do this every day.  Does one drink lead to another and another and then afterwards we feel bad about ourselves?  If so we now have formed a bad habit.  


Here are my top tips on forming good habits and stopping bad habitual behaviour

Breaking the chain
Woman relaxing

Forming Good Habits

  1. Start small – Pick a habit that is relatively easy to achieve.  This will trigger the reward circuit (dopamine) and helps us feel good about ourselves

  2. Chunking – For larger habits break them down in to smaller achievable tasks

  3. Be prepared to relapse – Making habits stick takes time and repetition.  Expect to fall off the wagon but then get straight back on and start again

  4. Be kind to yourself – Forming new habits is difficult.  If it isn’t working at first keep going.  You are not lazy or a failure, this is just the way the brain works.  The more you repeat the behaviour, the more chance it has of sticking

Woman breaking free

Stopping Bad Habits

  1. Willpower is not enough – Many people fall into the trap that willpower alone is enough.  It isn’t.  Willpower is like a muscle.  If you overuse it, it gets tired and stops working properly

  2. Change your environment – If you reach for a beer or the wine each day, remove the beer or wine from the fridge.  If you have to go to extra trouble to get your hit, you are less likely to repeat the habit.  Put obstacles or barriers in the way

  3. Association – Our brains our pattern matching machines.  In certain situations, we get what Robert Cialdini called a ‘Click, wrrr’ response.  It’s like we act as robots.  Can you have a shower when you get in from work rather than always going to the fridge?

Helping man up the mountain

How to make habits stick

  1. Visual cues – Very often we stop repeating a behaviour because we forget.  Can you leave visual cues around the house or at work to remind you of your new habit

  2. Time-based cues – If we repeat a behaviour at a certain time of day it is more likely to stick.  If you want to meditate each day but keep forgetting, how about doing it first thing when you get up in the morning or last thing at night.  Create an association with an event that will happen each day 

  3. Find a supporter – Having a buddy or supporter to check in on us and encourage us can be a huge help when things get tough.  Ask them to send you a text or give you a call each day

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