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Breaking habits

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Do you set a new goal and then have a hard time achieving it? It might be because you need to break old habits in order to form new ones! Here are some ways to help you break your unhelpful habits.

Understand your habit

In order to change anything, you first need to understand it. For the first week of working on breaking a habit, just track it! Do not try and change it at all, just observe it. Carry around a notecard (or use your notes app) and make a tally mark every time you engage in this unhelpful habit. Start to understand when it is happening and how often it is happening.

Tracking it, and being mindful of when it is happening can actually reduce the behavior!

Once you have tracked when the habit is happening, try and start to understand why it is happening. Get to know the habit loop that you are in. What is a habit loop? Great question! A habit loop is the reason why habits are so hard to break!


This can be really subtle! Let's take the habit of using social media. The cue for this routine or behavior can be as subtle as just having a moment free, or a feeling (discomfort/ boredom), a noise (your phone or something else's phone dinging), an action you do regularly(going to the bathroom, waking up, going to sleep) When you are learning why your habit happens start to be aware of what happens right before you engage in the behavior (or as it is called in the habit loop, the routine)


This is the habit that you are doing! This is any behavior that you are doing that may seem automatic. Something that you find yourself doing without thinking about doing it. Getting onto social media and getting stuck doom scrolling!


This, just like the cue, can be subtle. The reward is powerful in keeping this habit alive! It is important to be aware of and track the reward. The reward for getting onto social media can be many different things, getting to zone out, feeling connected to others, watching something funny or interesting and the list goes on! Observe what rewards you are getting out of your unhelpful habits before trying to change anything!

Examples of unhelpful habits




feeling stressed

bite nails

feel less stressed


drink soda

quench your thirst / get a boost of energy

feeling anxious

avoid the anxiety

feel less anxious

getting upset

yell at your partner

get a release


get something to eat

have something to do / a good taste in your mouth

Make it hard to automatically do the behavior!

Okay, now you are ready to work on the habit! The first thing that you can do is set up barriers that make the behavior/routine less accessible when the cue happens. This gives you a split moment to be aware of the urge to do the habit, and hopefully be able to insert a routine that you feel is more helpful for you.

Example: cue - wake up Routine - get on your phone to check emails, social media, texts...

If you were to keep your phone charging overnight in your bathroom or downstairs, reaching for your phone first thing would be more difficult. It gives you a moment to recognize the urge before it becomes an action!

Replace to behavior with a helpful behavior!

Once you make the unhelpful behavior less automatic by creating some barriers, try and replace the action you do after the cue with something more helpful. Maybe the first thing you do when you wake up is think about any dreams you had, make your bed, write in your gratitude journal that you place by your bed or have a conversation with your partner.

Find a behavior that gives you the same or similar reward

It is important to understand rewards because that is what keeps us in our habit loops! If the reward for getting on the phone to zone out, and you try and replace that by having a conversation (the opposite of zoning), that replacement behavior is not going to last long. The reward is not there!

Example: cue - wake up Routine - get on your phone to check emails, social media, texts... Reward- feeling accomplished

If getting on your phone gives you or sense of accomplishment right when you wake up, great! Let's try and replace that with drinking water, writing in a journal, listening to the news from your google home / Alexa, or making your bed the first thing when you get up! Really, this could be any other behavior that you feel like is helpful and has the same reward!

Go try this out and let me know how it goes!!


Hi, I’m Kristina Anzell, I am a Clinical Social Worker dedicated to providing compassionate and tailored mental health support for moms at all stages of motherhood. My mission is to empower you to thrive in your role as a mother while nurturing your own well-being. If you enjoyed this blog post, check out my blog here! If you want more information or are seeking treatment, feel free to reach out!

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