We all have those habits we wish we didn’t, but just can’t seem to break. You might think you spend too much time on social media or playing games, or that your time streaming videos might be better spent reading that classic novel you’ve always wanted to try.

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.

Make a list

Every year, New Year’s Eve rolls around and we make a list of our resolutions — or rather, habits we want to change or get rid of for the year. Spend less time on social media. Eat better. Exercise more. Quit smoking. Stop biting your nails. 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, especially if it keeps growing and growing each year. You’re not alone. We all have habits — old and new — that we want to change. Instead of trying to change them all, just pick 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, if possible
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.

Allow 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.

Dont give up
Habits are hard to break. Habits aren’t formed overnight, so they won’t change overnight, either. It takes time and patience for new behaviours to become routine. Habits can take several months to change. If you keep at it, you can turn those new behaviours into habits.