Hands up if you have a bad habit or two that you can’t seem to stop? Most of us do! It might be something minor – like using your phone too much before bed so you struggle to sleep, or it could be more serious – like a dependency on cigarettes, drugs or alcohol that’s affecting your health and lifestyle.

Habits are often caused by triggers – actions, objects, feelings or memories that remind you of something. So, if the trigger is something you see, do or experience regularly, then the bad habit can become an almost unconscious part of your daily life.

Some unhealthy habits can affect your overall health and wellbeing, so it’s important to honestly assess your own situation. Are you caught up in a negative cycle that might be affecting work or your personal life? This is nothing to be ashamed of – no one is immune to unhealthy habits, especially considering the intense challenges we’ve all faced over the last year.

To break negative habits, it can help to think about what the trigger is and avoid it. Most people want to create at least one good habit or give up a bad habit. Creating healthy habits helps with mental health and wellbeing. You can use a simple plan to create and maintain good habits and avoid returning to older unwanted habits.

Ways to create good habits
It’s hard to change everything all at once; it’s easier to set small goals and achieve them. This helps create good habits. For example, it is easier to do a small amount of exercise each day than to decide to run a marathon.

It might take you several months to create a new habit. So you need to include the change as part of your regular routine. A diary (hard copy or online) or a wall planner may help.

Many habits are triggered by events. For example, washing your hands is triggered by going to the toilet. It helps if you set triggers for your new habit as part of your existing routine. This could include a particular time of day, or an event such as waking up or eating lunch.

Setting reminders can help you maintain good habits. If you use an online diary, set automatic reminders on your computer and your phone. There are also apps available that help with goal setting and new habits. Your family and friends can also be a great support and can help to keep you motivated.

If you slip back into your old habits, don’t give up – this is common. Just remember why you wanted to make the change. This will help you pick up where you left off.

Ways to avoid bad habits
Make a note of what triggers a bad habit. If you are trying to eat less junk food, think about when and where you eat it. When driving? Getting it from the machine at work? After dinner?

Avoid the trigger if you can. So, if you buy chips from a vending machine at work, see if you can avoid the machine. If you smoke on the steps outside the office, see if you can use a different entrance.

Replace the bad habit with a good one. So, if you can’t avoid the vending machine, buy something healthy instead. If you can’t avoid the steps, chew sugarless gum instead.

A healthy habit tool
Here’s a way to help yourself create a healthy habit:

  1. Decide on a goal.
  2. Choose a simple action you can take every day.
  3. Plan when and where you will take your action: choose a time and place that you encounter every day of the week.
  4. Every time you encounter that time and place, take the action.
  5. Congratulate yourself when you find yourself doing the action.
  6. It gets easier with time, and within 10 weeks you should find you are doing it without even thinking.