Why Is It So Hard to Break a Habit?

Habits… we all have them.  We could all make a long list of habits we’d like to break and maybe some we’d like to start.  That’s the easy part, listing them. The difficult part is actually making the changes. But why?  Why are negative habits so hard to end and positive ones so hard to establish?  

To answer that, it’s helpful to take a deeper look into what a habit actually is, why we have habits, and how those habits develop.

A habit is an automatic response to a cue in your environment.  The cue can be a smell, the time of day, a person, an emotion, a symbol—basically anything can pull the trigger.  That cue triggers an action or behavior and that behavior provides a reward. Cue>Behavior>Reward=Habit

It’s important to note all this happens below the level of our conscious awareness.  This is one reason why habits are difficult to break, because we’re not even aware that we’re doing them.  Research suggests about 40% of our daily behavior is habitual. The busier we are and the more routines we follow, the more habits we will tend to have.

We do this because our brains love to create habits.  Habits mean our brains are free to pay attention to new things, complicated things, urgent things.  For example, if we had to concentrate on all the steps required to back the car out of the driveway, we might not focus on making sure there are no children, pets, or other cars behind us.

A habit is acquired through repetition.  The repeated behaviors (positive or negative) create neural pathways in our brains. Habits literally carve grooves in our brains. So it takes time to create a habit-any habit-it doesn’t happen quickly.  This is one reason why positive habits are hard to establish.  We want those behaviors to become automatic right away, get discouraged when they aren’t, and we give up.

This physical aspect to habits is another reason negative habits are hard to eliminate.  In fact, we can’t actually eliminate a habit, all we can do is lay a new, hopefully better one down.   Again, that takes attention, intention, effort, and time. It takes work.

Read on to Part 2 to learn why it’s worth all that work.


Fact: The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and found that you have a 65% of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%.


Awareness Challenge this week: Make a list of habits you don’t necessarily wish you had. Followed with another list of habits you want and number them based on importance to you.  



Tune in next time; we’ll discuss habits part 2.


In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about living a healthier lifestyle, reach out to us for our professional guidance and support. Give us a call!


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“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” – Charles Duhigg







Blog Photo Credit: Spie.com

Cover Photo Credit: Time.com

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