Everyone has a bad habit. Maybe you stay up too late and fail to get necessary rest. Maybe you eat junk food too often. Maybe you smoke, despite wanting to quit for a decade or more. Perhaps you spend your evenings watching Netflix instead of walking outside.
Habits can be tough to break—especially the bad kind, but it’s worth the effort to trade them in for better ones. Ready to make a change? With a few key steps, you can kick your vices for good. Here’s how to start the process.
Make the Commitment
Whatever you have to do to solidify your commitment to nix that habit, do it, says Amy Lukowski, PsyD, Clinical Director of National Jewish Health’s Health Initiatives Programs. “Define it and sign it,” she says. “Write down exactly what your goal is, and make that commitment to your partner, your kids, yourself. It’s crucial to have that defining moment, otherwise it’s that plan that never gets started.” Having a written “contract” can help, so type one up, print it out and sign it.
Create a Roadmap
Now that your commitment is set, you’ve got to be clear about how you’re going to get there. “You need SMART goals,” says Lukowski, citing an acronym she uses in practice.
It needs to be Specific: Maybe you’ll bring healthy lunches to work everyday, or hit the gym immediately when you wake up.
It should be Measurable: You should be able to track progress, like steps on your Fitbit tracker or the hours of sleep you’re logging each night.
It’s got to be Attainable: If you shoot too high, too fast, you’ll get discouraged by lack of progress toward your goal, so keep it realistic.
It should have built-in Rewards: “The reward should match the achievement, so perhaps you go to the movies on Friday if you hit your healthy-eating goal for the week,” she explains.
And lastly, your goal should be Timed: Set a date to hit your goal and “quit” your habit entirely, keeping it in the back of your mind along your journey.
Identify Your Triggers
Usually, Lukowski hears clients say, “I don’t even realize I’m doing that!” or “I can’t help it!” The reason for this is triggers. “You want to identify and change the behaviors that set off your habit,” she explains.
Perhaps you eat too much sugar and you get too little exercise on days where you get less than six hours of sleep. Maybe you always derail your diet during PMS. Maybe you smoke or bite your nails whenever you’re under a deadline at work. Start tracking the behaviors that eventually “set off” your habit; Lukowski says that a behavioral therapist can often help you ID your pitfalls if you can’t find them after a couple weeks.
Then, get creative. You might need an extra brick of chocolate during your period, so you don’t binge later on, or maybe you need to pace the office a couple times during the workday instead of biting your nails. Think, adapt, change.
Evaluate When You Fall Off Track
The biggest reason people can’t quit their bad habits? They have a difficult time getting back on the wagon once they’ve fallen off. “You need a contingency plan for when you veer off track,” Lukowski says.
Let’s say you go on vacation for a week, busting up your positive sleep habits and your smart diet choices. When you dive back into reality, don’t try to immediately pick up the good habits; although you don’t realize it, a stark change back might be too high a mountain to climb.
“If you were going to bed at 2 am, you might need to try 1 am for a few days, and then midnight, until you get back to that healthy bedtime,” says Lukowski. Ditto healthy eating. Maybe you need to gradually cut back on chocolate and add in more veggies, instead of trying to instantly transition from vice foods to waistline-friendly foods.
Need some help staying on top of your sleep? Fitbit Sleep Tracking automatically records your sleep and allows you to review your sleep duration and more in the Fitbit app. You’ll get a recommended personalized sleep schedule based on your sleep goal, recent trends, and your wake-up target, and you can also get friendly bedtime reminders that notify you when it’s time to turn in for the night.
And if you need help keeping track of your diet, consider all the ways Fitbit Food Logging can help you. Tracking what you eat gives you a big picture view of your diet, making you more aware of your favorite foods, portion sizes, not-so-healthy habits, and fallback cravings.
Just remember that kicking habits is a process, and staying the course is essential. You should always have a plan to get back on course for moments when you falter, which is the real way you beat bad habits for good: Don’t let the missteps wreck your attitude, and never give up on your goal.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.