Training the Brain: How to Break Bad Habits

break bad habits

Do you find yourself struggling with your hard-wired, nasty habits? Whether it is nail biting, smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, or binge eating that you find so hard to resist, you can actually train your brain to curb them. While the mere thought of it can be extremely daunting, it can still be achieved by conditioning your brain to muster up only the right routines. Here are effective methods on training your brain to break a habit, so you can become a better you.

Cultivate awareness.

The first step to breaking a bad habit is to acknowledge that you have one and admit to yourself that it is a problem–one that may bring you to a downward spiral if you don’t control it. Cultivating awareness can lead you to identify the root of the habit you want to break free from and enact a permanent change. Train your brain to create some sense of urgency to come up with strategies to avoid the temptation (e.g. refraining from visiting areas where you used to smoke or drink or staying away from pals who reel you into using drugs).  Another good way to cultivate a sense of self-awareness is through meditation.  Meditation will enable you to slow down and carefully do some self-examination.

Condition your brain to prefer the good habits over the bad.

Dr. Russell Poldrack, a neurobiologist from the University of Texas at Austin, asserts that programming the brain to prefer the good habits over the bad is one helpful technique. Training your brain to break a habit through conditioning or reinforcement can be quite difficult at first and is not 100% guaranteed to work.  But breaking a bad habit is extremely doable with constant reinforcement.  The more you repeat a positive thought or action, the more it gets inculcated in the brain. Work on repeatedly telling yourself– you know (insert bad habit here) is bad; you should stay away from it.

Keep your brain preoccupied with more fruitful activities.


Nipping a routine formation in the bud before it can get cemented in your system is one of the most effective ways on how to beat a bad habit. To be able to do this, you have to find wholesome things to do to keep your brain busy before it can even start to conceive a harmful routine.

Read more: Learn how to create new habits

By repeating the same pattern over and over, your brain creates a neural pathway that automates your action. In order to replace this old pathway, you need to train your brain to create a new one by focusing on a better and healthier routine, like spending more of your time dancing or exercising rather than drinking alcohol or smoking. When you keep yourself preoccupied with worthwhile stuff, you will find yourself able to skip doing what you used to crave to do, like grabbing for junk food or binge eating, which may usually come as a result of an idle mind.

Sure, old habits die hard. Every now and then, you get to feel the irresistible urge to backslide. But that should not be an excuse to perpetuate them.  Following these tips on training your brain to break a bad habit, matched with strong willpower and determination, should put you on the right track to personal development and becoming a better you.


The following scientific references were used in writing this article:

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