Advice for Changing Habits and Improving Consistency

[icon name=”user” class=”” unprefixed_class=””] Hasina Akhter, Ph.D

Kicking bad habits and sticking on the right ones could be difficult if you are not that much determined. Habits that are not doing anything good to your life are bad or unwanted habits. Those could be overeating or addiction to anything that could ruin your life [1]. Whatever they are you should not overlook them. People who are aware of their flaws that need to be changed are more likely to achieve that change than those who are clueless about these. Thus it is important to know yourself and your unwanted habits if there is any. Moreover, defining goals and setting realistic time-lines are keys to changing unwanted behaviors.

Here are the guidelines for changing habits and at the same time improving consistency:

Set-up your goals first and be committed to achieve them

Making life style changes could be a daunting task if you don’t know your goals. Even if you know the goals but not committed to those than the change is not easy. After setting-up the goals be committed to those. It’s a good practice to write down your goals on a piece of paper and read it soon after starting your day as well as before going to sleep at night. That’s a prescription having no side effects and is likely to help.

Try to improve your self-control processes

The ability to control bad habits, depends on a variety of self-control processes, including detecting that self-regulation is necessary and having sufficient self-regulatory capacity [23]. A study by Quinn JF et al 2010 [4] demonstrated that bad habits, were most effectively controlled through spontaneous use of attentive monitoring (thinking “don’t do it,” watching carefully for slipups).

Stop being distracted from your goals

You need to remain focused on habit changing and can’t get distracted. Studies of action slips in daily life showed that habit infringement were especially common when people were distracted

or not giving attention to what they were doing [5].

Set realistic timelines to follow

Nothing can be achieved overnight. Changing bad habits will take time too. The most important thing is to set a realistic timelines and have to change the unwanted habits gradually. Say, if you are drinking five cups of coffee in the morning and have a goal of staving off four cups, give yourself a few weeks to achieve this. The first big hurdle is to achieve 3-months of the target behavior. In familiar and unvarying settings situation, behavior tends to be guided more by habit than intention, but in novel or changing contexts behavior will be regulated by intention:

behavior is more likely to proceed in line with habit than intention [6].

Find support from others

Quitting bad habits is hard enough without having to watch the people near you. Being accountable to a person who is closed to you helps. Such as, if you want to quit smoking and your friend is still smoking, you may not reach to your goal. So find someone with the same goals and stick with him. The support from friends, family, colleagues, or professional support groups could be beneficial. Try to find those and talk with them regularly about changing habits. Those things will help you to remain stick on your goals.

Set limits for yourself

If your goal to lose a few pounds by restricting calories, temptation to have a bit of your aunt’s famous cheesecake could be a blunder. So watch out such slippage and stay on track. But if you slips up don’t give a reason to give up. Think hard about why you slipped and get back on track. There is always a better tomorrow.


  1. Neal, D. T., Wood, W., & Quinn, J. M. (2006). Habits: A repeat performance. Current Directions in Psychological Science 15: (198-202).

  1. Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2008). Feedback processes in the simultaneous regulation of affect and action. In J. Y. Shah & W. Gardner (Eds.), Handbook of motivation science (308-324). New York: Guilford.

  2. Muraven, M., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Self-regulation and depletion of limited resources: Does self-control resemble a muscle? Psychol Bull, 126: (247-259).

  3. Quinn J.M., Pascoe A., Wood W., and Neal D.T. (2010). Can’t Control Yourself? MonitorThose Bad Habits. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 36: (499–511).

  4. Reason, J. T. (1992). Cognitive under specification: Its varieties and consequences. In B. J. Baars (Ed.), Experimental slips and human error: Exploring the architecture of volition (71-91). New York: Plenum.

  5. Gardner B, de Bruijn G-J (2011). A systematic review and meta-analysis of applications of the self-report habit index to nutrition and physical activity behaviors. Ann Behav Med 42: (174–187).