You Can’t Stop a Bad Habit


We’ve all heard people, and likely ourselves, say they need to stop a bad habit. You hear them all the time, “I’m trying to quit smoking,” or “I need to stop eating so much.” Perhaps the bad habit is the time spent with someone that treats them badly, be it a spouse, partner, or employer. Or it is the habit of spending time complaining instead of taking action to improve their situation.

Lady holding her head and screaming

So here’s the secret to stopping a bad habit:  You don’t stop it, you REPLACE it.

A new habit, which typically takes considerable effort and discipline, must exist. Otherwise, the old habit is not displaced and quickly returns (or never leaves).

You see, most people lie to themselves about their bad habits. We make excuses to ourselves. Once we believe our lies, then we share them with others, as if this makes our behavior somehow more acceptable. “I’m very busy this week, so I’m going to wait until next week to start my diet.”

Much of my writing focuses on improving communication skills, but I submit that this telling of lies, including to ourselves, is a communication issue that effects our daily lives.

To replace the lies and the bad habits, we must do two things. First, you must learn to pay attention to the little lies that empower our bad habits. Listen to yourself think, listen to what you tell others, and stop accepting your own dishonesty. If you want to eat extra cookies, at least don’t lie about why it is okay. Go ahead and admit it is an indulgence, not that it is “Okay because I had a salad at lunch.” It is this mental “okaying” that empowers us to repeat the bad habit.

Second, focus on the replacement habits. For instance, I know ex-smokers that now chew more gum. Smoking did not stop as a habit, it was replaced. To do this, they had to communicate better with themselves, consciously choosing a better habit every time the urge of the old habit developed. Self-communication is key.

Of course, knowing how to do a thing, like replacing a bad habit, is much easier than actually doing a thing. At that point, it is a matter of priority and discipline. If it is important enough, you’ll make the changes. If you don’t, then clearly it is not as important as you may claim (ah, more little lies).

Our actions and our thoughts are ours to control but only when we choose to do so.


Glenn S. PhillipsGlenn S. Phillips is the author of the book Nerd-to-English: Your Everyday Guide to Translating Your Business, Your Messages, and Yourself.  You can email Glenn directly at

Glenn is also the president of Forte’ Incorporated, a consulting firm that works with business leaders to understand and address the often hidden technology and business risks lurking within their organizations.

© Copyright 2012. Glenn S. Phillips, Forte’ Incorporated. (205) 985-1111


About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.