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Breaking Bad

Strategies for stopping bad habits

November-December 2023

by Vanessa LaFaso Stolarski, Contributing Columnist

Whether it’s biting our nails, overindulging in unhealthy foods, procrastinating or succumbing to negative self-talk, these habits can hold us back from leading fulfilling and productive lives. The good news is that with the right mindset and motivation, change is possible. Here are four proven strategies to help you stop unwanted behaviors in their tracks.


The first step in breaking any bad habit is to identify its triggers. Habits are often a response to specific cues or stimuli in our environment. By recognizing what prompts your bad habit, you can take proactive steps to avoid or mitigate those triggers. For instance, if you’re trying to quit smoking, you might discover that stress or social situations trigger your cravings. Once you know this, you can develop healthier coping mechanisms for stress or choose not to attend events where smoking is prevalent.

Understanding the psychological and emotional triggers behind your habits is equally important. Are you turning to a specific behavior as a way to deal with anxiety, boredom or low self-esteem? If so, addressing the underlying emotional needs is crucial. Consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor who can help you develop healthier coping strategies or recruit a friend who knows you best.


Breaking a bad habit often leaves a void in your daily routine. To successfully overcome this gap, replace the negative habit with a positive one. Habits are easier to change when they are replaced rather than simply removed.

For example, if you are trying to cut down on sugary snacks, stock your pantry with healthier alternatives like fruits, nuts or yogurt. This not only helps satisfy your cravings but also improves your overall nutrition. Similarly, if you’re trying to break the habit of excessive screen time, consider replacing it with a daily exercise routine, reading or spending quality time with loved ones.


Share your goal with a friend, family member or coworker who can hold you responsible for your actions. Knowing that someone is aware of your intentions can motivate you to stay on track.

You can also take advantage of technology to boost your accountability. Choose from a variety of habit-tracking apps that allow you to set goals, monitor your progress, and receive reminders. Some even offer social features that let you share your achievements with a community of like-minded individuals.


Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment and aware of your thoughts and feelings. It can be a powerful tool for breaking bad habits because it helps you become more conscious of your actions and their consequences. By practicing mindfulness, you can observe your cravings, triggers and urges without immediately acting on them.

Kicking a habit to the curb is challenging but entirely achievable. Remember that change takes time, and setbacks are a natural part of the process. Be patient with yourself. Give yourself grace when you fall short. Stay committed to your goals, and with persistence and determination, you can successfully break free from those unwanted habits.

Vanessa LaFaso Stolarski is a certified nutrition counselor, weightlifting coach, life coach and stress-management specialist.

All health-related content and media provided by Cooperative Living or its website(s) is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualifified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.