We all have those habits we wish we didn’t, but just can’t seem to break. Though you’ve tried numerous times to break these habits, it might seem like nothing works. Even when you think you’ve finally bested it, you might find yourself back to doing the same habit weeks, or even hours, later. So, how can we stop? How long does it take to break a habit? It can be a challenge, but with some time and effort, habits can be changed using the tips below:

Make a list
Make a list of the habits you want to change or get rid of. Making a list of your habits is not meant to make you feel bad about yourself, but to make you more aware of the things you want to change. This list can seem overwhelming but start by just picking one or two.

Identify the cause

Now that you’ve made a list of your habits, try to find what prompts them. Maybe you reach for that carton of ice cream or bar of chocolate when you’re stressed or are having a bad day. Maybe you spend so much time scrolling on social media because you’re bored. Nervousness or anxiety in stressful situations might drive you to bite your nails. Learning what puts your habit in motion might help you come up with ideas to stop or change the behaviour.

Remove the cause
Once you know the cause, removing it or finding ways to ease those feelings in the moment might help you break that habit. If you tend to reach for foods you don’t want to be eating, consider throwing them away (or donating them). If the first thing you do when you wake up is check your phone, try leaving your phone outside your room or in another area not as close to your bed. This doesn’t have to be forever — just until you’re confident that you’ve broken the habit.

Replace the habit
Just knowing the habit and cause behind it isn’t necessarily enough to make it go away. Replacing a habit with an alternate behaviour is a good way to assist to change or break a habit. Instead of reaching for a cigarette when you’re stressed, try taking a walk or meditation — to find relief. When anxiety has you chewing on your nails again, some deep breathing exercises might help ease your feelings. Try not to replace your new behaviour with something that’s similar to the old one. For example, if you want to stop scrolling through social media so much, try not to use another streaming app as a replacement. Try these replacement ideas: eating fruit when you think about a processed sweet, journaling when you’re stressed or anxious, reading a book when you’re bored or chewing a piece of gum when you want a cigarette

Make simple changes
Habits are sometimes hard to break because they’ve become an automatic part of our day-to-day routines and patterns. In fact, our habit-forming behaviours have been linked to the “autopilot” part of our brain. Making simple changes — such as moving your phone from your nightstand before bed — can make it easier for the new behaviour to become part of your autopilot routine.

Accept slip ups
It’s natural to have slips ups. Rather than beat yourself up about it, remind yourself that you’re only human and it’s OK. If you fall back into the habit, remember that it might take more than one trial to change it.

Reward yourself
Motivate yourself to change your habits by using incentives or rewards. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive or elaborate. It can be something as simple as a bubble bath or a favourite meal. Consider setting a goal for the week, and if you reach it, treat yourself. Knowing there’s a reward in the future might motivate you to stick with your plan to break that habit.

Keep trying
Habits are hard to break. Habits aren’t formed overnight, so they won’t change overnight. It takes time and patience for new behaviours to become routine. Habits can take several weeks or even months to change so don’t give up.