What’s the secret to breaking bad habits forever?

You can’t kill bad habits but you can replace them.

A habit has three parts: the cue (what makes you crave a cigarette), the routine (smoking) and the reward (feeling relaxed.)

The secret is keeping the same cue and reward but replacing the routine. (Replacing smoking with meditation, exercise or, as many inadvertently do, food.)

You have to believe change is possible. The chances of success are greatly increased if you have a supportive group around you with the same values.

From Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

How do habits change?

There is, unfortunately, no specific set of steps guaranteed to work for every person. We know that a habit cannot be eradicated— it must, instead, be replaced. And we know that habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied: If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted.

But that’s not enough. For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group.

If you want to quit smoking, figure out a different routine that will satisfy the cravings filled by cigarettes. Then, find a support group, a collection of other former smokers, or a community that will help you believe you can stay away from nicotine, and use that group when you feel you might stumble.

If you want to lose weight, study your habits to determine why you really leave your desk for a snack each day, and then find someone else to take a walk with you, to gossip with at their desk rather than in the cafeteria, a group that tracks weight-loss goals together, or someone who also wants to keep a stock of apples, rather than chips, nearby.

The evidence is clear: If you want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. Belief is essential, and it grows out of a communal experience, even if that community is only as large as two people.

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