Young woman standing outside with a calm expression on her face

Understand and break free from your habits


‘New Year; New start’ is how most of us begin January.

However, once the initial momentum fades, we can abandon the new goals we set for ourselves and fall back into all the old habits we were so determined to change.

A reason for this can simply be that our goals are far too big.

Setting unrealistic goals can overwhelm us, leading to negative self-talk such as, “I can’t do this”, “I’m no good at this” and “I’m a failure”.

All of this places us in a negative cycle, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and low self-worth, and usually ends with us giving up on trying to change anything.

A better way to start is by setting small, manageable goals…

For example, if your goal is to get out walking more you could start with a five-minute walk, increasing this by a little bit more each day until you reach your desired time of walking.

Starting small will help get your motivation started. You’ll probably find yourself walking for longer than planned, which is a bigger win and encourages us to keep going even more!

Setting these small, manageable goals is also much less overwhelming, and means that motivation will come to you after you take action.

If saying ‘goodbye’ to old habits is one of your goals this year, the following tips may help…

All habits have three parts: a trigger, a behaviour and a result.

Trigger – this is what starts the habit. It can be something you see, hear, a place you visit, a thought, sensations or even a smell.

Behaviour – this is the habit itself and could be physical (such as biting your nails, overeating, smoking, or spending too much time on social media) or a mental habit (such as overthinking, constantly criticising yourself or comparing yourself to others).

Result – this is how you feel after the behaviour. In the short-term this might feel good, but in the long term not so good.

Here is an example involving the habit of eating too many biscuits…

Trigger – You’re stressed out after a long day at work and see a packet of biscuits on the counter.

Behaviour – You eat the whole packet of biscuits.

Result – In the moment you feel less hungry and a sugar rush makes you feel good. However, over time you feel less in control, and this behaviour may contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle, unwanted weight gain, lower self-worth and self-judgement.

By breaking a habit down into these three parts you can begin to recognise how it starts and how unhelpful and unrewarding it is for you.

This provides the brain with new information and is an important step to breaking any habit.

Try these questions to help you work through your own unwanted habits…

What is the behaviour you would like to change?

What do you get from this habit?

What triggers you to engage in the habit? Is it a thought, emotion, smell or sight?

What small changes can you make to stop the habit? Remember to take things one small step at a time!

As you become more mindful of where your habits come from you can gradually move away from them and replace them with behaviour that’s much healthier for you. Taking the time to stop and think before engaging in your habits can also make all the difference.

Just remember: Doing things one step at a time is your key to success.


Good luck!