Fresh Starts: 6 Psychologically-Backed Habit Breakers

Written by Marina Andreoli

Fresh Starts: 6 Psychologically-Backed Habit Breakers

The blossoms are out, baby birds are trilling their first incantations, and Vitamin D is streaming for free. Springspiration is in the air, and in the spirit of fresh starts, here are six psychologically-backed ways to break old habits.

What are Habits?

Whether it’s mindless scrolling through social media, coming home to Netflix every night, or smoking away work stress, we’ve all got an undesired habit that we can’t kick. Whether physical, social, or mental, there is a reason for this!

Habits form when cognitive or physical activity was once consciously performed but have since become automatically programmed in the subconscious. Here, it becomes challenging to control.

Reversing a habit requires moving it back from the subconscious to the conscious mind.

How Do You Change a Habit?

Ok, tip time! Let’s get going.

Step 1: Identify Your Habits

Some are glaringly obvious, with consequences that may have driven you to read this article. However, others are hidden and internalized, only to be discovered by deliberate inspection or by asking trusted loved ones to help you understand habitual behaviors.

Step 2: Inspect the Impact

Habits are actions, and there is either a physical or mental effect for every activity. What does your habit give you? Is it stress relief or a sense of escape? It could be inconspicuous, like clicking your knuckles, giving you something to focus on, and calming your nerves.

Step 3: Logic is Key

Your common sense will tell you exactly why your habit isn’t serving you in the long run, despite the implicit benefits identified above. Mull it over, give weight to this voice. Really take a minute and apply your wisdom to situations where the habit typically arises. You’ve got this.

Step 4: Do Something Else

Look for a healthier alternative that gives you the same feeling identified in Step 2. It doesn’t have to be as time-consuming as Yoga classes to see results! Are you looking for a sense of calm? Deep breaths or box breathing is excellent for this, or you can imagine a tranquil place- keep it simple.

Step 5: Triggers? Chuck em

We never learn in isolation. Smokers not only learn to like smoking, but they also associate it with five-minute breaks away from desks and chats with colleagues. These are all called conditioned stimuli, and successful unlearning requires you to steer well clear.

Step 6: Picture It

As the forgetful among us know all too well, our brains lose old information. Remarkably, they can be trained to do so by visualization. Picturing healthier replacement behaviors gives your brain new information, and motivates us to take up and continue positive actions.

For example, to replace your habit of going to bed too late, visualize a relaxing nighttime routine and waking up refreshed. When continually envisioned, you would naturally shy away from nighttime distractions and look forward to shut-eye.


Habits don’t change overnight and require consistent, deliberate effort. They can stick around for as long—if not longer—than they took to form, and failure from time to time is likely. Guard against discouraged apathy—rather make small changes until your process works. You can do this!


Psychology Today