Books on Breaking Bad Habits + Expert Tips!

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Change is undeniably challenging, yet essential for growth. When habits become ingrained, they feel like integral parts of our identity, making any shift away from them uncomfortable. But what happens when these habits start negatively impacting your life? Consider the habitual tardiness that affects both your professional and personal commitments, or the procrastination that stalls your progress.

In pursuit of transformation, it’s crucial to arm oneself with knowledge and strategies that foster change. To this end, I’ve curated a selection of insightful books complemented by wisdom from leading experts in their own fields. 

Additionally, for those seeking a more structured path to personal development, exploring self-improvement courses can be a game-changer. These resources are designed not just to inspire but to equip you with practical strategies for meaningful change.

Best Books on Breaking Bad Habits

Below is a list of top books that come highly recommended for anyone looking to break bad habits and foster personal growth. These books have been chosen for their actionable advice, psychological insights, and the motivational boost they offer. 

1. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” by James Clear 

Offers a powerful framework for understanding how habits work and how tiny changes can lead to remarkable results.

2. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Explores the science of habit formation in the brain and provides insights on how to change habits effectively.

3. Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg 

Focuses on the transformative power of tiny behaviors and how to implement them to make significant life changes.

Here’s what David Zhang, the CEO of Kate Backdrop has to say about the book.

In "Tiny Habits," BJ Fogg articulates a transformative approach to behavior change by emphasizing the power of small, actionable steps. He introduces the concept that by starting with minuscule adjustments, we can foster habits that lead to significant change without overwhelming ourselves. This method, grounded in years of research, debunks the myth that dramatic and immediate overhauls are the most effective way to break bad habits. By anchoring new routines to established ones, Fogg demonstrates how naturally habits can evolve, making the process of change more manageable and sustainable. I also love how the book highlights the importance of celebrating small successes, as it reinforces positive behavior and motivates continued progress.

David Zhang, CEO, Kate Backdrop

4. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

Discusses the concept of “fixed” vs. “growth” mindsets and how adopting the latter can help in overcoming challenges and changing habits.

5. The Habit Change Workbook: How to Break Bad Habits and Form Good Ones by James Claiborn and Cherry Pedrick, R.N.

A practical guide filled with worksheets and tools to help readers actively work on breaking bad habits.

6. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink 

Offers insights into what truly motivates us and how understanding these factors can help in the process of habit change.

7. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Delivers strategies for overcoming obstacles to change, focusing on the rational and emotional minds.

8. Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits by Gretchen Rubin

Rubin’s personal exploration of habits and what works and doesn’t work when trying to change them.

9. The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore 

Though focused on procrastination, this book offers valuable insights into breaking the habit of delaying tasks and how to foster a more productive mindset.

10. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney 

Examines the science of self-control and how understanding and harnessing willpower can aid in breaking bad habits.

Meanwhile, you can read this great article on 7 Ways to Take Control of Your Life.

11. Get it Together Forever! The Ultimate Guide to Stepping into Control of Your Own Life by Dr Tracey Zielinski 

Author and retired Clinical Psychologist, Tracey Zielinski, wrote this practical book, and has everything you need to break the bad habits that have been plaguing you.

“The first two sections of the book focus on giving you a range of simple, effective skills that serve to stop the self-sabotage and help you build belief in your ability to change. The third section, which covers a range of specific topics in depth, includes a chapter entitled: Breaking the Big Bad Wolf of Habits which specifically targets stubborn and complex habits.”

Tracey Zielinski, Author and (retired) Clinical Psychologist

12. Freedom From Addiction: A Hypnotherapist’s Guide to Overcoming Addictions and Compulsions by Jeremy Walker

This book is recommended by Rachelle Hare and was published by her Hypnotherapist, Jeremy Walker. She has only good words to say about the book.

“He outlines the basis of his successful practice helping his patients overcome their bad habits or addictions using the Walker Addiction Removal Protocol (WARP).”

Rachelle Hare, Owner/ Director, Brisbane Livewell Clinic

13. DARE to be Awesome; How to Design the Life or Your Dreams by Dee Matlok 

In her book, Dee introduces the DARE model she created for building lasting healthy habits. Here’s a quick overview of what DARE means, directly from the author.

“D for Desire, A for Accountability, R for Reward, E for Environment.”

Dee Matlok, Wellness Transformation Coach/ Hypnotherapist, Corporate Trainer, Dragonfly Global Enterprises PTY Limited

Understanding the Psychology of Habits

Understanding the intricate psychology behind our habits is the cornerstone of initiating meaningful change.

The habit loop explained

  • Cue: This is the trigger that initiates the behavior. It could be anything from a time of day, a specific emotional state, or an environmental factor that signals to your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use.
  • Routine: The routine is the behavior itself, the action you take automatically when you encounter the cue. This could be reaching for a snack when stressed or going for a run in the morning.
  • Reward: The reward is the benefit you gain from the behavior, such as the burst of endorphins after exercise or the temporary relief from stress when indulging in comfort food. This reward helps your brain determine if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

Understanding this loop is pivotal because it reveals that every habit is maintained by a deeply rooted desire to achieve the reward. 

It’s not merely the behavior itself but the outcome that keeps us hooked. This insight provides a powerful leverage point for change; by identifying and altering elements of this loop, we can dismantle old habits and forge new, healthier ones.

To understand your triggers, consider the approach of Alisha Burns’ journal, “Curiosity and Kindness,” designed to help people break unhealthy eating habits. Unlike traditional methods that focus on counting calories or macros, this journal encourages you to note what you eat and the reasons behind it – whether due to hunger, procrastination, or boredom.

Gaining insight and awareness into your triggers helps change your behavior moving forward. It allows you to understand the reasons behind your actions better when you know what influences them. You can apply the same principle and technique to uncover cues or triggers in other aspects of your life.

Dissecting the psychological triggers

Diving deeper into the psychology of habits, it becomes clear that our behaviors are often driven by deeper psychological needs. 

These triggers can be emotional (like feeling lonely or stressed), situational (such as being in a specific place), or even related to certain people or times of day. 

Recognizing these triggers is the first step in breaking the habit loop. It involves a mindful observation of our actions and the circumstances that precede them.

The role of rewards in habit formation

Rewards play a crucial role in habit formation. They satisfy our brain’s craving for pleasure or relief, reinforcing the habit loop each time we engage in the behavior. 

However, not all rewards are created equal. Immediate, tangible rewards tend to have a stronger effect on habit formation than delayed rewards. 

Understanding the specific rewards that reinforce your habits can reveal what needs your habits are fulfilling, offering clues on how to replace unhealthy habits with more positive actions that deliver similar benefits.

Setting the stage for new habits

Armed with an understanding of the habit loop and the psychological forces at play, we can begin to strategically dismantle unhelpful patterns. This involves deliberately altering aspects of the loop:

  • Changing the cue: Avoid or alter the triggers that lead to the undesirable habit.
  • Modifying the routine: Replace the harmful behavior with a healthier one that fulfills the same need or provides a similar reward.
  • Shifting the reward: Ensure the new habit offers a reward that is genuinely satisfying and reinforces the desired change.

Strategies for Change

Let’s explore a comprehensive range of strategies designed to facilitate meaningful change.

1. Setting clear, achievable goals

The process of change begins with clarity. Setting clear, specific, and achievable goals provides a roadmap for your journey. 

Instead of vague aspirations like “I want to be healthier,” aim for concrete objectives such as “I will eat three servings of vegetables daily” or “I will walk 10,000 steps five days a week.” 

2. Understanding the underlying needs

Many habits, especially unhelpful ones, are driven by underlying emotional needs or desires, such as stress relief, comfort, or escape. By identifying and understanding these needs, you can seek out healthier ways to fulfill them. 

For instance, if stress triggers unhealthy snacking, consider alternative stress management techniques like meditation, exercise, or engaging in a hobby.

3. Incremental changes and the power of small wins

Radical overhauls are often unsustainable; instead, focus on making small, incremental changes. This approach, known as the Kaizen method, emphasizes the power of small, continuous improvements. 

4. Altering your environment

Your environment can significantly influence your habits. By making deliberate changes to your surroundings, you can remove cues for bad habits and create triggers for new, positive ones. 

This might involve rearranging your living space to encourage productivity, removing junk food from your kitchen to support healthy eating habits, or placing your running shoes next to your bed to encourage morning exercise.

5. Leveraging social support

The people around you can play a crucial role in your journey towards change. Sharing your goals with friends, family, or a support group can provide motivation, accountability, and encouragement. Consider finding a buddy with a similar goal to share the journey with, or join a community of people who are working towards similar changes.

6. Reflecting and adjusting

Regular reflection on your strategies, successes, and challenges is crucial. Keep a journal to track your progress, reflect on what’s working and what’s not, and adjust your approach accordingly. This reflective practice ensures that your strategies evolve with your changing needs and circumstances.

7. Embracing setbacks as learning opportunities

Setbacks are an inevitable part of the change process. Rather than viewing them as failures, embrace them as opportunities to learn and grow. Analyze what led to the setback, what you can learn from it, and how you can adjust your strategies to prevent similar issues in the future. This mindset fosters resilience and a positive attitude towards continuous improvement.

8. Be strong and flow like water 

We have here a metaphorical yet awesome tip from Louise Duminy of Busy Bee Blossom.

“I try to practice mindfulness but It can be hard to re-direct thoughts away from the negative. By reading about Ikigai I have learnt to let the bad thought pass. Be strong and flow like water. Let the bad thoughts go. Quite difficult to do but I’m trying! It helps to zone out from constant phone pings from messages and chats. We need space to see nature and just relax.”

Louise Duminy, Owner, Busy Bee Blossom

9. Begin exactly where you are

I found this tip from Melinda Shelley enlightening. It’s practical and many people can relate.

“I’ve personally felt the toll of neglecting self-care, after reading a “Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod. Learning its lessons, I reshaped my morning rituals and now I start each day visualizing the future I dream for my charity, supported by Marisa Peer’s empowering affirmations. This shift, coupled with a newfound habit to fitness, has radically altered not just my mornings but my entire day’s rhythm and perspective. To anyone wrestling with bad habits, here’s my heartfelt suggestion: begin exactly where you are. If you miss a day or a week, forgive yourself and start again. It’s the journey of making progress, embracing imperfection, and allowing yourself the space to focus on the life you dream of.”

Melinda Shelley, Founder, 123ReadMe

10. Use the power of mind 

Eugenie Pepper, a Psychotherapist, who is currently writing her book, offers advice for those looking to break a bad habit.

“By harnessing the power of the mind, we can consciously mold our habits to align with our goals and aspirations. Self-hypnosis techniques induce a state of deep relaxation and reduce stress. Many bad habits are linked to stress or anxiety, and by learning to relax deeply through self-hypnosis, you can diminish the emotional triggers that lead to the habit. Hypnosis can support you to focus on creating and reinforcing new positive habits to replace the old ones. By harnessing the power of your mind, you can strengthen your commitment to adopting healthier behaviors and gradually diminish the hold of the old habit”

Eugenie Pepper, Psychotherapist, KEY HYPNOTHERAPY - KEY FOR ME

Additional tip: Before dedicating valuable time to reading books on overcoming bad habits, here’s what Dr. Jo Lukins advises.

“In my workshops, I quote that 'habits are great, they save us from having to think' and 'habits are terrible, they save us from having to think'. There are so many books out there that address habits, so my advice is to find an author that resonates for you and ensure their advice includes the practicalities of acknowledging, understanding and changing your habits in a way that will work for you.”

Dr. Jo Lukins, Psychology and High Performance Consultant, drjolukins.com

The Importance of Motivation

Motivation is the fuel for change. Without it, the journey can quickly become daunting. Cultivating a strong, intrinsic motivation is key to maintaining the momentum needed for long-term transformation. 

This might involve connecting your goals to deeply held values or finding inspiration in the potential benefits that change will bring to your life.

Here are a few concrete motivation examples: 

  • Personal growth: Committing to read one book related to personal development each month to expand your perspective and enhance self-awareness. Take a look at this article on What Causes Lack of Self-Awareness
  • Physical health: Setting a goal to run a 5K race within six months, incorporating a structured training plan to gradually increase endurance and strength.
  • Mental well-being: Practicing mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes every morning to reduce stress and improve mental clarity.
  • Relationships: Planning a weekly date night or quality time to strengthen bonds with your partner or scheduling regular calls with distant family members.
  • Professional development: Enrolling in a specific online course or certification program relevant to your career field to gain a competitive edge and new skills.
  • Financial goals: Creating a budget with the aim of saving a certain percentage of your income each month towards an emergency fund or a specific purchase like a home.
  • Personal satisfaction: Taking up a new hobby such as painting or learning a musical instrument, dedicating time each week to practice and improve.
  • Social impact: Volunteering monthly at a local charity or non-profit organization that aligns with your values to contribute positively to your community.
  • Adventure: Planning and executing a solo travel trip to a new country or region each year to explore different cultures and environments.
  • Legacy: Writing a personal memoir or starting a blog to share your life experiences, lessons learned, and wisdom with future generations.
  • Creativity: Setting a goal to complete a personal creative project, like writing a novel or creating a series of paintings, within a specific timeframe.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How long does it typically take to break a bad habit?

The time it takes to break a bad habit can vary significantly depending on the habit’s complexity, the strategy employed, and the individual’s consistency. While a commonly cited period is 21 days, research suggests it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit or break an old one.

Can bad habits be replaced with good ones, or do they need to be eliminated entirely?

Bad habits are more effectively replaced with good ones rather than trying to eliminate them without a substitute. This approach leverages the existing habit loop (cue, routine, reward) by changing the routine to a more positive action that fulfills the same need.

What role does willpower play in changing habits?

Willpower is important in the initial stages of changing a habit, but relying solely on willpower is unsustainable. Building systems and changing your environment to support new habits are more effective strategies in the long term.

How can I stay motivated when I don’t see immediate results?

Staying motivated without immediate results requires focusing on the process rather than just the outcome. Celebrate small wins, track your progress, and remind yourself of the long-term benefits your efforts are leading towards.

What’s the best way to deal with setbacks when trying to break a habit?

When facing setbacks, it’s crucial to view them as part of the learning process. Reflect on what led to the setback, adjust your strategy accordingly, and remember that progress is not always linear. Persistence and adaptability are key.

Key Takeaways 

This post offers a comprehensive guide to breaking bad habits and fostering personal growth, underlining the importance of understanding the psychological aspects of habit formation and change.

Breaking bad habits is a challenging but rewarding journey toward self-improvement and personal development. It requires a conscious effort to understand the underlying psychological triggers, a commitment to replacing unhelpful patterns with beneficial ones, and the resilience to overcome inevitable setbacks.

For those ready to take their personal development journey to the next level, the Skill Success All Access Pass offers an unparalleled opportunity. This comprehensive pass provides access to a vast array of self-improvement courses, covering everything from breaking bad habits to professional development, mental well-being, and more. By investing in the Skill Success All Access Pass with more than 3,000 courses available, you’re not just learning new skills; you’re committing to a lifetime of growth, empowerment, and the realization of your full potential. 

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