Which is Harder – Creating a New Habit or Breaking an Old Habit?


Tom Corley boats - crop

This question came from a subscriber and it’s a great question.

The answer is that it is equally difficult, if you don’t know the short-cuts to habit change.

Based on my extensive research on habit change, which I included in my book Change Your Habits Change Your Life, there are numerous short-cuts to eliminating a bad habit.

Change Who You Associate With

Old bad habits can be triggered by the individuals you associate with. If you are trying to get rid of some old, bad habits, you need to limit the time you spend associating with those individuals who act as a trigger for those bad habits and begin associating with individuals who possess some opposite Rich Habit.

For example, if you have the bad habit of not exercising, find a friend who exercises regularly. Because habits spread like a virus throughout your social networks, changing who is in your social network will automatically force habit change. You will become infected by their habits.

Another example would be if you have a bad habit of not reading to learn. Joining a reading group that focuses on reading informative books will expose you to people who have that Rich Habit. They will infect you with their reading habit.

You could also partner with a reader. Here’s how.

Find a friend who reads a lot of informative books and ask them what book they are currently reading. Then, start reading that same book. Now, you and your friend will have something in common to talk about, which will actually strengthen your relationship.

Change Your Environment

It is much easier to abandon old habits when you change your environment. New home, new neighbors, new friends, new job, new colleagues, new cities, etc., all offer an opportunity to abandon old habits and forge new habits. Spoons, knives and forks are no longer where they used to be, so you have to think. Your commute to work is different, so you have to think. Your new responsibilities at work are different, so you have to think. Eventually, your brain will force you to develop new habits in your new environment in order to make its job easier.

Granted, moving or taking on a new job is a huge change you may not be prepared to make. But you don’t have to make a huge change in your environment to eliminate an old bad habit. You can actually create a new environment, within your existing environment, that will enable you to change an old habit.

For example, let’s say you have the old bad habit of sitting on the couch right after you come home from work, a Do-Nothing habit that’s not good for your health.

Well, is there a gym near your home? If so, replace the after work couch environment with an after work gym environment.

One obvious bonus is that you will likely meet some new friends. New friends are always a good thing.

But an additional bonus is that these new friends will infect you with their good exercise habits, because habits spread like a virus throughout your social networks.

Firewall Your Bad Habits

Another trick to eliminate old bad habits is to make it harder to engage in them by creating some type of firewall between you and the bad habit.

For example, let’s say you eat junk food at night while watching T.V. You eat that junk food because it’s in your pantry.The way to make this bad habit harder to engage in, would be to stop stocking your pantry with junk food snack and instead stock your pantry with healthy snacks.

The habit isn’t eating junk food; the habit is snacking while you watch T.V.

Eliminating easy access to junk food won’t likely stop you from snacking. When you sit to watch T.V., the cue, you will still default into your routine of seeking a snack. This time, however, the reward will be a different snack, a healthy one.

Start Small

Let’s say you have a bad habit of smoking when you drink alcohol. Both bad habits. Instead of going cold turkey on your drinking habit, however, commit to drinking just one less drink. This will likely translate into one less cigarette. 

The smaller, easier the habit change, the higher the probability that it will stick. Small habit change gives you momentum and increased confidence. This allows you to take on bigger, more complex habit changes in the future.

Hijack an Existing Habit

One last tip. It is far easier to eliminate bad habits when you add a good Keystone habit that conflicts with the bad existing habit. The problem with this strategy is that it requires you to add a new habit in order to eliminate some old bad habits. But it’s worth the investment.

Here’s why.

Keystone habits have a domino effect on behavior. They give rise to other comparable habits. For example, if you have a junk food eating habit that you want to eliminate, add the Keystone habit of jogging for 20 minutes a day. 

Given enough time (about 90 days), that Keystone habit would begin to overpower the junk food eating habit because they conflict with one another and Keystone habits overpower ordinary habits. Eventually, the old bad ordinary habit of eating junk food will create an internal conflict – good health vs. bad health.

In my above snack example, eating a healthy snack will replace eating the unhealthy snack. You’re just hijacking a habit synapse – the act of snacking is actually the habit, not what you eat.

The same hijacking habit change strategy can be used for someone who watches too much junk TV. It’s easy to replace an hour of junk TV with an hour of watching, say a TEDx video, or watching an educational documentary.

The habit isn’t what you watch, the content. It’s watching a video screen. By changing the content of what you watch, you essentially have hijacked an exiting habit synapse and using it to forge the new good habit of watching content that increases your knowledge-base.

Be Sociable, Share!
Thomas C. Corley About Thomas C. Corley

Tom Corley is a bestselling author, speaker, and media contributor for Business Insider, CNBC and a few other national media outlets.

His Rich Habits research has been read, viewed or heard by over 50 million people in 25 countries around the world.

Besides being an author, Tom is also a CPA, CFP, holds a master’s degree in taxation and is President of Cerefice and Company, a CPA firm in New Jersey.
Phone Number: 732-382-3800 Ext. 103.
Email Tom
| Download Media Kit

Speak Your Mind