How to turn bad habits into good ones with 3 examples

Marc Lou
Marc Lou April 14th, 2022
A guy doing abs workout while brushing his teeth
Hey, it's Marc 👋

You might be wondering "Why is this guy brushing his teeth while doing abs?".

Spoiler: I'm breaking a bad habit and replacing it with a good one.

I used to brush my teeth for too long. 10 minutes to be exact. I know it's wrong and can damage my gum. In 10 years, I tried everything: timers, electric toothbrushes, "reward/punishment" systems. Nothing worked.

A few months ago, I explored a different approach and told myself:

"Fine, brush your teeth as long as you want as long as you can hold this abs position"

Instead of going against my will (brushing my teeth until they shine), I accepted it and channeled the energy into something good (getting a 6-pack)

It works like magic 🪄 I stop brushing my teeth after 2 or 3 minutes and I'm getting fit.

Let's get started!

  1. 1. Stopping bad habits drastically doesn't work
  2. 2. Channel unwanted behavior into good habits
  3. 3. 3 examples
  4. 4. Final thoughts

Stopping bad habits drastically doesn't work

Habits, good and bad, always follow the same pattern.

  1. 1. The cue (or trigger) acts as a reminder and makes you crave the reward. It can be visual (notifications) or in your head (think about a delicious hamburger).
  2. 2. The routine is the performance that brings the reward (browsing social media, eating that burger, etc...)
  3. 3. The reward is the feeling you get when you're done performing the routine.
The Habit Loop for social media notifications

If you want to dive deeper into the habit loop, the books Power of Habit (by Charles Duhigg) and Atomic Habits (by James Clear) are excellent.

When it comes to breaking a bad habit, we intuitively think about suppressing the cue.

For instance, if you spend too much time on social media, turning on Do Not Disturb on your phone will make you unaware of what's going on and less likely to open Facebook.

No cue, no routine, no reward. Voila! 🌟

Not so fast. It works well for a while, but at some point, the reward is so strong that the cue will naturally pop up in your mind.

So why don't we just stop performing the routine?

Let's say you're snacking between meals and decide to make a pact with yourself "Even if the temptation is huge, I will not snack anymore".

If you're determined, this might work for a while, despite the frustration.

However, if one day you don't feel like it or you're tired, you end up breaking your promise and it backfires. 💥

The next thing you're doing is opening a huge pack of crisps and catching up with all the days you didn't snack.

Instead of suppressing your feelings, let's see how to channel this energy into something good for you.

Channel unwanted behavior into good habits

Train rails in the city

Now we understand breaking a bad habit is more complicated than just stopping it, it's time to act. Let's build good habits on top of it!

For that, we need 2 ingredients.

❤️ Acceptance

There is nothing wrong with what you're doing right now. We live in a world where temptation is everywhere and getting distracted is easier than ever. Be kind to yourself, accept it, it's OK.

💡 Creativity

We are all different. Your bad habits are different than mine and what you want might not be what I want.

Here's a framework to help you find a good/bad habit combo that works for you. Make 2 side-by-side lists:

  1. 1. Bad habits you're trying to quit on the left.
  2. 2. Good habits you're building on the right (my 6 daily habits).

Now, try to connect one good habit with one bad habit by asking yourself:

"Can I perform [good habit] while doing [bad habit]?"

A list of good and bad habits

For me, it looks like this:

  • - Brush my teeth while I do abs
  • - Bring my GoPro during surf sessions so I get clips for my YouTube channel

With a bit of creativity and practice, you will find what's working for you and build new habits. To spark your creativity, below are examples of how I'd break 3 bad habits.

Replacing 3 bad habits with good ones

🍿 Netflix & Stretch

It's easy to get lost on Netflix for 3 hours and wonder why it's already dark outside. But Netflix isn't that bad. It entertains your brain and leaves your body alone.

Why not using this mind-relaxing time to relax your body?

Earbuds, Netflix on your laptop, follow-along stretching video on your phone and let's go! If you're looking for a simple full-body stretch, here's mine.

🍸 Alcohol Game

Let's play a game...

For each glass of alcohol, you lose -1 point. For each apple eaten, you earn +1 point. To win, you must come back home with 0 points (or more) at the end of the party.

Drink less, eat healthily, and win the game while having fun!

🍟 Snack Plank

Allow yourself to snack on anything you'd like with one condition. Whatever you're eating, you must do it while holding the plank position.

If you fall, you can't eat anymore. This should keep you away from overeating while building a 6-pack and feeling less guilty.

Final thoughts

Being strict, going against your will, and forcing yourself is hard and often backfires. Instead, use your creativity to extract something good out of unwanted behavior.

Sometimes, having fun is all you need to be motivated. That's why I build Habits Garden. It's a habit tracker that rewards your consistency so you stay motivated while getting better every day.

If you want to add anything to this, ping me on Twitter.

Discover other posts to fight procrastination, form good habits, break bad ones and live a better life.

"The best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is now."