How To Break Bad Habits For Good (With TED Talk Video)

Most people who believed that good habits are vital to success may have read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you’ve had limited success bringing in good habits into your life, maybe you should consider learning how to break your bad habits as well. Because it could be your existing sets of bad habits that’s negating every single effort you put in.

I remember attending the Masters Of Wealth 2015 in Malaysia when the event moderator and also founder of JRT Network, Jason Tyne drafted a diagram showing how our thoughts would form actions, and these actions reinforce our beliefs and thoughts. I believe that this is exactly happening with habits, good or bad. When bad habits got into your belief system(as it often does), removing them would be a challenge.

Bad habits not only jeopardize your chance of success in terms of career and life, certain habits could also be detrimental to your physical and mental health. 

“I don’t think I’ve had that many bad habits to worry with”

That’s what most people thought. Because at this point you would probably think of maybe a couple of habits that you would like to remove at most. That’s because when bad habits developed and become part of your daily life, you barely noticed it. Here’s a good analogy.

How To Break Bad Habits

Well, if you are still struggling to identify your bad habits, here are some of the most common bad habits that people struggle to break :

1. Snacking Non-StopHow To Break Bad Habits


Nothing beats the pleasure of a single bite of chips or some premium dark chocolate before gulping all down with a can of soft drinks. And if you repeat it daily, don’t ever complain about the growing waistline. Or worse when you have some serious health problem from the sugar content.(Note to self: It’s too late for regret if you end up having diabetic complications)

2. Overspending Into Debt

When you get your monthly pay cheque, do you have the urge to spend on things just to pamper yourself? How about a trip to the classy restaurant? Or a branded bag that you’ve been eyeing for so long. You deserve all these after a month of hard work. That’s the common excuse. If you have this habit, you could find yourself broke before the end of the month.

3. Behaviors that bring stress, worry, and anger all the time.
How To Break Bad Habits

What happened when things don’t go smoothly for you? Do you react emotionally or do you take it all calmly and objectively? If you are one who keeps obsessing on problems (and ends up worrying for nothing), check out my previous post on stopping obsessive thoughts here. It’s easy to say worrying doesn’t solve a thing but to actually practice it is another matter.

These are just some from the list from Reader’s Digest . They are pretty generic. I’m sure most of you would have been guilty with at least one of them. (I know I am). And if you don’t take action in removing them, it will definitely affect your life sooner or later.

But I don’t think those bad habits have anything to do with being successful.

Well, maybe not directly, but what’s the meaning of success when you lose your health and lifestyle? But if you really want to know some really bad habits that would keep you off the success trail, here are 3 bad habits from

1. Waiting for the right momentHow To Break Bad Habits

Do you always hesitate when you are about to start a new project or learning something
new? Do you think “Maybe I should wait…” (till when???) And then you gave a few hundred excuses before shelving the idea completely. If you are to wait for the right moment, I’m afraid it would never come. Or perhaps it could, but the opportunities may just have passed you by. There is no right moment. Don’t wait or you will see any chance of success goes up in smoke.

2. Not learning from people ‘less’ than you

This often happened to the academical person and people who’ve lost their head after achieving a lesser degree of success. I’m not pointing fingers or stereotyping, but I’m saying this categorically based on what I observed around me. You could be a higher ranking executive in your company, or you could be the owner of your company.

The worst mistake you can make is to think you know more than the people who work for you. I remembered watching a movie 20 years back when a martial art coach said: “Even the master could learn from their student“.

3. The need to be perfectHow To Break Bad Habits

Do you need to be perfect EVERY single time? I would prefer my surgeon or dentist to be a perfectionist. There’s definitely no doubt about that. (Getting the wrong teeth pulled out is kinda scary) But there is always a right time for that.

If you are forever demanding to be perfect, you would find it difficult to work with people. If you are working with your team, you would make life difficult for them. And if you are in business, sometimes waiting for things to be perfect means losing out to competitors. (Or worse, your product could be obsolete by the time you launch it, I know one company who learned this the hard way)

Alright… I got it.. but how do I break bad habits for good?

I wish there is a simple way of throwing out the bad habits. But unfortunately not. And for stubborn people (like me), the process could be a little bit harder and longer. But here’s some step by step guide if you are serious to remove your bad habits.

1. Understand your bad habit

How To Break Bad Habits

There is a reason you develop your bad habits and if you are going to remove them, you have to understand the WHY. According to this post from, bad habits are often attributed to stress and boredom.

 If you have nothing to do on weekends, would you go on a shopping spree? I know some people do. Would you snack when you are stress? (I know I do). There is always a reason for your bad habits. Take time to identify them.

2. List them down.

It’s hard to change all of your bad habits at once, but a list of them is particularly useful. Just get a piece of paper and list 5 of your bad habits that you think you want to get rid off. When you list down your bad habits, it is a powerful psychological and physical act that says “I’m going to get rid of these habits“. It’s a powerful statement.

3. What do your bad habits cost you?

You’ve got a list ready. Now it’s time to write down the consequence if you continue your bad habits. If you listed down “Snacking late at night“, add in the consequence so that it becomes “Snacking late at night will definitely increase my waist size by 4 inches in 2 months“.

Better still if you can add some visual graphics as a stronger reminder. People have the ability to shut off the consequences conveniently when they are engaging in their bad habits. Be sure to write them down.

4. Make copies and put it at strategic locations.

How To Break Bad Habits

If you are guilty of the few bites of chocolates at midnight, put a nice sticky note at the fridge. Something like “A piece of chocolate at the wee hour is expanding to my waistline” will do. We are forgetful creatures (Try remembering your new year resolution. Now you get what I mean). This is a good way to remind and interrupt your regular pattern of habits.

5. Replace your bad habits with a good one.

When you remove your bad habits, you leave a void. It is instinctive to revert back to our old ways. So think of a good habit that gives the opposite result of the bad ones. And try to practice that instead. A good example would be, if I’m always sneaking some snacks at night, maybe I can replace it with fruits. Apples and some grapes perhaps?

6. One step at a time.

You can’t just get rid of bad habits in a couple of days. Some of them has been in our daily life for years. Instead of going from one extreme to others, plan a transition that is realistic to be done. If you find getting rid of a few habits is too much to handle, how about starting with just one of them? Wait till you are sure that you have the one old habit out before you moved on to another one.

7. Be accountable

How To Break Bad Habits

It’s very easy to say I want to stop ravaging the fridge late at night. It’s easy to keep that behavior for a couple of weeks. But what if you slipped up after a month or so? If you are serious about getting rid of your bad habits, then you need some sort of a carrot and stick system to motivate you.

As suggested by You can find yourself for each offense. Probably a dollar for each offense and donate the money for a cause at the end of the month.

8. Get Support from your friends.

If you are trying to break a major bad habit, one that’s going to jeopardize your success, maybe it’s good to bring in a trustable friend. Someone who could be brutally honest and keep you in check. That’s what true friends are for. It helps as you wouldn’t want to face your friend with all kind of excuses.

9. Be Patient with yourself.

Remember some of your bad habits have been around for years. I’ve spent more than 3 decades roaming on this earth, some of my habits could be with me since childhood. It takes time to totally get rid of bad habits. Sometimes there could be a relapse. Just remember to that you are a human after all. Don’t beat yourself up. Do keep up your effort.

10. Mindfulness

How To Break Bad Habits

It’s always the mind that gave in to the temptations of old ways. Train your mind to be more alert and aware of the signals or symptoms that would bring back the bad habits. Aside from getting rid of bad habits, mindfulness practice “results in increases in health, competence, and happiness“. (according to an article in Forbes).

Check out this fantastic TED Talk About Breaking Bad Habits With Mindfulness

So what’re your bad habits that you can’t wait to get rid of? I think mine is sneaking a few bites on snacks at night. (If you’ve noticed I’ve been mentioning chocolates and soft drinks a couple of times in this post). J Do you have any plans and strategies that remove bad habit effectively? Do share with me at the comments below.

About the Author

I am an engineer-turned-writer who once struggle with social anxiety. After overcoming problems inflicted by low self-esteem and the fear of interaction, I realize the need for taking a holistic approach in developing our mind. I'm sharing my experience, remedies, and techniques that interest me in my quest to be a better self.

Leave a Reply 44 comments

Ted - July 28, 2016 Reply

Loved the article, I have some bad habits that I had gotten rid of but they have crept back into my life. I need to lose those few inches and you reminded me how important it is to take care of myself. I need to quit smoking again (I had quit for 4 years.) I also need to stop eating late and drink water before bed instead. Some really good key points about how habits effect our lives both at home and professionally. Great stuff!

    Kenny Lee - July 28, 2016 Reply

    Hi Ted,

    Getting rid of bad habits is needs patience, determination and action. I’m guilty for some relapse as well. Let’s keep our effort going.


Matt's Mom - July 28, 2016 Reply

I am one of those people that doesn’t really have this problem. For me it is all mindset. Once I set my mind to stopping something, or even starting something like a workout routine, I just do it. I guess I don’t understand the mentality of not being able to stop a bad habit. Maybe it is because I have never really had any serious issues with something.

    Kenny Lee - July 28, 2016 Reply


    I salute you for your self-discipline. I guess I need to pick a few lesson from you.


Alfred James - July 28, 2016 Reply

Great article, I really highlight the way you are getting the niche and the way you connect with, that’s very positive for your website.

Your article is very useful, currently I’m trying to change my food habits because it has a very impactive effect on my life, is not easy but is possible. Actually I like your video-article is amazing to have this TED conference, great article and keep forward.

    Kenny Lee - July 29, 2016 Reply

    Hi Alfred,

    Food habits is tough to change. I’m struggling with that too. I did make some progress but there’s a relapse. I’m slowly getting back on track again. Thanks for reading.


Chris - July 28, 2016 Reply

I will definitely be looking at this book. It highlights the problem I have every other month of overspending into debt. I keep telling myself that I deserve it, and then feel bad once its gone until the next pay check. Another problem that I have is waiting for the right moment, always telling myself to wait next month instead of making time to do it now. I also like the list on how to understand my bad habit. It makes me really want to read this book.

    Kenny Lee - July 29, 2016 Reply

    Hi Chris,

    Money management is an issue many of us struggle with. But it is definitely something that can be work on.


Kim - July 28, 2016 Reply

Hey Kenny, Yea my worst habit is sneaking snacks through out the day, I find myself saying I’m going to stop this before I out grow my new clothes, and I do for several days. And then oops, I start in again sneaking snacks, my bad.
I like your suggestions on ways to brake the bad habits, I agree that the first steps is to become aware of the bad ones.

    Kenny Lee - July 29, 2016 Reply

    Hi Kim,

    I guess we share similar sins when it come to bad habits. Let’s work on it together then.


Jeanette - July 28, 2016 Reply

Hi Kenny!

What an awesome article! I enjoyed reading it. I really agree with you on when it comes to breaking habits, there’s typically an underlying cause for the habit. It’s always good to do some self-searching and deep analysis to see how your life is going.

Mindfulness is a great way to really see what you’re doing with your life. When I started to practice this in my life that’s when I really started to make some big changes. For example, I recently completely changed up my diet and stopped drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. I pretty much quit cold turkey with the alcohol, switched up my diet to raw vegan, and then pretty much tapered off from smoking with my e-cig which I eventually quit that all together. Feels so good to know that I’ve accomplished this all.

Thank you so much for this great article. I know it will help lots of people to break their bad habits. You have some awesome steps to go about it. 🙂


    Kenny Lee - July 29, 2016 Reply

    Hi Jeanette,

    Congrats to you for having done what others would struggled to. It is not easy to quit an addiction. I think it is important to be aware of our thoughts and the triggers and intercept those thoughts before it leads to some destructive behaviours.

    Thanks for reading and sharing.


Rachel - July 28, 2016 Reply

It is so true, we all have some sort of bad habit(s) we would like to break. I really love your suggetions. I am going to try them out 🙂

    Kenny Lee - July 29, 2016 Reply

    Hi Rachel,

    I hope you have success with them. All the best.


Enid - July 29, 2016 Reply

I believe it is very important to replace bad habits with good. I believe it is important to replace bad thoughts and motives with good as well. I find a lot of good things to think on in the Bible. I love the book of Proverbs for practical advice. Many of the hints and tips people use everyday come from here. Even if you aren’t a christian the advice is sound and positive.

    Kenny Lee - July 29, 2016 Reply


    I believe there is good in all religion. It all depends how we practice the teaching. And I think most people know what is good for their own well-being. It’s just sometimes we pay for lessons that remind us of what we already know.


Matt - July 29, 2016 Reply

This is a great article and very useful tips! Another parable your Matrix parable reminded me of is the Alagory of the Cave. Its basically about a bunch of people who spend their whole lives facing a cave wall. There is a fire in the background and all they see are shadows of other people walking.

These people sitting down think these shadows is reality but they don’t realize they are just shadows – which is just a projection of what is truly reality. When one of them escapes and realizes that what they have been staring at are just shadows the man is simply met with backlash and criticism and he is ultimately exiled from the group. They then go back to their own little reality of staring at the wall – Not realizing that what they are looking at doesn’t even exist. Our greatest weaknesses are often the ones we are ignorant about.

    Kenny Lee - July 30, 2016 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for dropping by and sharing some great comment. It’s true sometimes we pick a belief just because other are doing so. Same goes to habit. We need to develop wisdom to overcome this. And wisdom is found not in intellectual studies but the exploration of our mind and going through life itself.


Darren - July 30, 2016 Reply

Hey Kenny,

You really pinpoint some of my bad habits. I cleared some and still keeping some. This article reminds me how I should use the method you suggest to get rid of them. I also believe that the environment or people that we connect with everyday is also one of the factor to our bad habit(some good). Take for example, if our parents has that, it will definitely influence us to pick that up. What do you think about smoking? Do you consider that a bad habit or addiction?

    Kenny Lee - July 30, 2016 Reply

    Good job in getting rid of your bad habits.

    Your habits could be a result of your belief. I think smoking is both habit and addiction, which make quitting smoking a very tough process. We pick up most of our habits from our peers. Which is why I believe it is important to associate with people we aspire to be.

    Thanks for reading.

Keith - August 3, 2016 Reply

Think I may try some of this advice! Nice..

    Kenny Lee - August 3, 2016 Reply

    Thank you.

Sarah - August 3, 2016 Reply

Great post and some really useful tips on breaking habits. My worst habit is probably putting things off and procrastinating so putting sticky notes up and being more mindful will definitely help me I think, that’s such a great TED talk to inspire people as well. Thank you, you’ve given me some great ideas to help improve things.

    Kenny Lee - August 3, 2016 Reply


    I think we shared a common bad habit in procrastination. Sometimes I have to mentally drag myself up to get things doing. That’s especially after a long break for work. Let’s keep it up.


Rachel - August 7, 2016 Reply

One bad habit that I really have to get out of – procrastination.

Yep, that’s because I wanted to wait until the time is right, I wanted to do things perfect the first time round, and I think that the things around me are too inferior for me to use for my project.

Bingo, Kenny, spot on!

Being accountable and beng patient with ourselves is probably the two things that is most important in my eyes. I believe that if a person is accountable, she can be trusted to do anything – even breaking her own bad habits. As for being patient……hey, I’ve been biting my fingernails for two decades (now another thing that I have to get rid of), and you expect me to break free of it entirely after a week? Literally impossible!

Bookmarking this page to get rid of procrastination and finger-biting.

    Kenny Lee - August 8, 2016 Reply

    Hi Rachel,

    Isn’t it funny how our mind often beat ourself off doing something that we wanted to. Excuses, doubt, and fears. The more we listen to them, the more energy we feed them. And in the end, we are defeated before we even start.

    I’m writing this post as an encouragement to others and also a reminder for myself too. Let’s move forward together.


Michael Kenny - August 7, 2016 Reply

Hiya, I love the article and thank you for sharing this, I got to say I suffer from procrastination and waiting for the perfect time and realizing that now there is no perfect time only now as laziness is a silent killer and the biggest challenge is to take action now, that alone over time develops into a new habit without thinking twice without doing it. My father once said..

”Don’t let the grass grow from under your feet”

I didn’t know what he meant by that as I was a child but now they are the truest words said.

    Kenny Lee - August 8, 2016 Reply

    Hi Michael,

    Thank you for reading. I guess we all have been victim of procrastination sometimes in life. Well, at least most of us do. Your father is wise to told you that. Do allow me to quote the beautiful saying.



Alexey - August 29, 2016 Reply

What a great post, I had a good time reading it. It reminds me of a couple of my bad habits which Initially was able to change. Habits are a strong thing, and I think that the same as you wrote a post on how to break bad habits you should also write a post on how to form new ones.
If you have a one I will happily read it 🙂
Otherwise, this post is going to help so many people!

    Kenny Lee - August 30, 2016 Reply

    Hi Alexey,

    Thanks for reading and your great suggestion of my coming post. Will definitely keep you updated.

lynnsamuelson - August 30, 2016 Reply

This article reminded me of a great book I read several years ago called “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. It was a powerful read and stayed on the NY Times best-seller list for a long time. I believe almost everyone has habits that are self-destructive or time-wasting and they don’t take the steps to change them because of the reasons you mention. I think your suggestion of the post-it notes and getting help from friends are great. Also being able to forgive ourselves and getting right back on the horse if we relapse is another good tip (which you call “Be Patient”).

    Kenny Lee - August 31, 2016 Reply


    Thanks for the valuable comment. Changing habits especially those that we are accustomed to for years if not decades takes time. Patience and persistence is key here.

    I’ll check out the book that you mention.


Lawrence - September 5, 2016 Reply

Breaking bad habits is the key to creating a positive, happy and successful life.

I haven’t actually read all of Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People but I definitely will do!

I completely agree with all the 10 steps you have shared here. If I had to pick one habit that resonates with me the most, it would be step number 5 – Replacing a bad habit with a good one =)

    Kenny Lee - September 5, 2016 Reply

    Hi Lawrence,

    Thanks for leaving your comment.
    One of my reader suggested a post on how to create new positive habits.
    Do you have any methods that you would like to share?


Alexey - September 8, 2016 Reply

Breaking a bad habit takes a lot of energy and self control. I think your article is very professional and well written, you are truly helping folks here, including me (with some of my bad habits). You know, habits are a very interesting thing because they work so silent, and so unnoticed – It’s enough to take a few action steps here and there, and without noticing we are trapped in the chains of habits. If we understand the process, we can use it to form the good ones.

    Kenny Lee - September 8, 2016 Reply

    Hi Alexey,

    Thank you for your compliment. We all have bad habits. I’m also getting rid of mine when I’m writing this post. Kind of a reminder for myself too. Most of our habits are from our subconscious mind. It’s hard to get rid, and requires tremendous self discipline and will power.



Josh - September 14, 2016 Reply

Wow. When you were listening the different bad habits a lot of us struggle with, I almost felt like you’ve been watching me or something haha. But the truth is, you’ve just done a great job nailing some bad habits that are pretty universal. More importantly, you did something about it. You offered some solutions that are completely feasible and not overwhelming for someone trying to make some changes. At the same time, you never oversimplify, giving “easy” answers to some tough problems. These are just really smart and practical practices one can take on to help defeat a bad habit and I appreciate you sharing them with us!

    Kenny Lee - September 15, 2016 Reply

    Hi Josh,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Each of us have our fair share of bad habits, probably built after years or decades. It’s not easy getting rid of them. But it doesn’t mean it’s not worth giving a shot. Change is possible. It’s our willpower that makes or break.



kevin - April 24, 2017 Reply

wow thanks for the information , I knew I had some bad habit like with money and food , these are 2 I really need to break if I am going to be where I want to be , so there is some good stuff here that I will really try to fix, I will certainly remember this page

    Kenny Lee - April 24, 2017 Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for checking it out.


L7 - August 7, 2017 Reply

Bad habits are expensive in the end. They cost us in any number of ways and sometimes are beyond our control to stop or change. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life was to quit smoking cigarettes. It took me years to accomplish success in quitting.
You suggest replacing bad habits with good ones and that is good advice. The bottom line is strength, determination, and willpower. Those of us who don’t have that must find ways to get it.

    Kenny Lee - August 8, 2017 Reply


    Congratulations in successfully quitting cigarettes. Shows that what seems almost impossible can be done. Thanks for sharing your story here.


Josh Ellery - November 7, 2017 Reply

Not a better way to express your point than using a TED talk. Bad habits are hard to break and I know it sounds counterproductive but one thing that I helped was accepting the bad habit and what I was doing. usually when you start beating yourself up the guilt makes you continue it. What do you think about acceptance in this matter?

    Kenny Lee - November 9, 2017 Reply

    Hi Josh,

    I think that’s a very good point that you are sharing here. You need to accept your weakness before you can do anything to overcome it.


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