21 Days to break a habit [free download]


It’s hard to admit you need to make a change, and even harder to break the habit once you have. But having the gumption to kick what’s holding you back can transform you into brighter, better version of yourself.

As part of our ‘bad habits’ newsletter edition we’ve been doing our research. Whether it’s smoking and cheezels or biting your nails and watching too much television, successfully shaking a vice seems to follow a 9 step pattern.

When you’re ready, start here. We’ve included a free 21 days to break a habit downloadable to help you along the way.

Remember to share your journey with IOF family!
We’re always here for support.


Step 1: Where’s the hole?

Maybe it’s filling an emotional need. Perhaps it’s comforting you, entertaining you, distracting you, satisfying you, encouraging you. Maybe it’s even helping you create your own kind of reality.

Whatever your habit is doing… you like it very much.

So have a good look at what you’re stuck on and ask yourself why you’re stuck on it. What hole does it fill in your life?

It might not come to you straight away. So take some time to really dig deep on this one. When you’re ready, move on to step 2.


Step 2: Why do you want to stop?

Your second big habit busting why is asking yourself why you want to stop. Now is the time to get completely real and don’t be silly and sugar coat things. Don’t pretend you want to stop because you’ve read how bad your habit is for you, for others, for the planet.

If you’re not 100% ready to change, you simply won’t. No amount of nagging from friends, family, your trainer or the world around you will make you quit it. Lots of time we need to get really scared out of our habits (sad but true). Or over time we need to develop such a loathing of them that it cancels out all the good stuff they’ve given us over the years.

Write down all the reasons you want to kick your habit and then write down the consequences for keeping it. You will need to be brave for this exercise because chances are you’ve been ignoring the consequences of your actions for a very long time indeed.

We don’t change because we think we have to, we change because we perceive that the rewards of being different are better than the rewards of being the same. So if right now the rewards of your habit outweigh the perceived cons, then give yourself some time and come back here when you’re ready.

Don’t worry, you’ll know straightaway when you are.



Step 3: Change habits, not outcomes.

Here’s the thing: being fat is not a habit, it’s an outcome of lots of little habits showing up on your body (I think we all know that there is no such thing as ‘secret’ chocolate eating).

Biting your fingernails might be a habit, but it might also be an outcome of not coping when you’re feeling anxious and needing comfort.

Not getting enough exercise isn’t a habit, but watching too much TV or driving the car everywhere or taking the lift instead of the stairs – these are all bad habits that stop us from getting enough exercise.

Take another look at the bad habits and consequences you listed and decide whether it is truly a habit you are wanting to tackle or an outcome.

Ask yourself whether the nail biting is actually the outcome of a deeper habit like: avoiding facing up to stress or anxiety; not feeling comfortable with being alone or with others; fearing boredom; being hungry (that’s a joke… I think… never been a nail biter!)

Step 4: Commit to change for 21 days

So we’ve pulled our habit out, examined the whys and decided to change. But just because we don’t want to habit anymore doesn’t mean shaking it will be a cake walk!

21 days isn’t an exact science. But there’s a lot of talk out there about three weeks being the right amount of time to break bad habits and make new ones. ore than anything though it gives you a bite-sized amount of time to aim for and stop you feeling too overwhelmed by the reality that this is for the rest of your life.

We’ve put together a habit calendar to get you started. Pull it out and stick it somewhere meaningful.


Step 5: Create alternatives

Your calendar worksheet has a space for things you can do instead of your habit.

Popping them on the calendar acts as a reminder when things get tough. So whether they’re distractions or substitutions – make good choices people!!

Step 6: Change rhythms

Don’t just wait for the habit craving to begin before you substitute. Rather, introduce your new regime and work on making it part of your daily rhythm.

If you’re trying to break up with chocolate and you generally find yourself having some after dinner, put a new thing in after dinner to look forward to. Make that thing your ‘full stop’ on all after-dinner eating. Currently as I work to stop my night snacking habit, I’m enjoying a cup of tea after dinner and I’m making that ‘the end’. I’m hoping it will help me live happily ever after too!

Make a list of when your habit crops up in your daily routine – mornings, afternoons, evenings,..Think about something else you could be doing rather than doing your habit and Introduce them into your day tomorrow.

It could be a foodie thing:
(bowl of strawberries, a cup of herbal tea, planting a vegetable garden, baking something healthy)

Or a creative thing:
(painting, sculpting, knitting)

Maybe a sporty thing:
(bike ride, walk around the block, aerobics videos)

Even a luxurious thing:
(bubble baths, cuddles with your loved one, painting your nails)

Step 7: Change your environment

There are so many cues in our daily life that remind us of our bad habit that it makes sense to remove as many of them as possible.

The most dangerous of all cues is the clock. How often do we do things just because it’s a certain time of day? Oh, it’s midday, I must be getting hungry. Oh, it’s been a whole hour since I had a cigarette, I must need another one.

Do an audit of all the times your habit is triggered and work out a way to remove the trigger. Environments can be notoriously hard to control, but it can be done.

Some examples:

  • Don’t watch TV at night if you always snack when you watch TV at night (this is my current strategy, working well)
  • Walk a different way to work to avoid the bakery if you can’t resist buying a bun on your way past.
  • Go for a 30 minute walk at 10:15 am if you always have an extra cup of coffee at 10:30 am.
  • Shop online for groceries so you avoid the shops altogether.
  • Don’t drink the first glass if you can’t stop after the second.
  • Don’t talk on the phone if it means you bite your fingernails when you talk on the phone.
  • Don’t drink for a while if you always smoke when you drink.


Step 8: Focus.

When you start making healthy changes in your life sometimes you can get a little too enthusiastic.

There’s that tendency to want to change all of the bad stuff in one go… You’ll find yourself thinking “I’m so good at this! Look at me go! While I’m at it I’ll kick my red wine at the end of the night, and my netflix binge on the weekends, and my..”

And then all of a sudden, you don’t feel so good..

What happens when we start adding more and more good intentions into the mix is that we overwhelm ourselves and end up crashing straight back into all our comfy old bad habits. Sometimes we even add an extra couple of bad habits in just because after days / weeks / months of deprivation we deserve it.

Focus that all-or-nothing energy in on a single habit, and when you’ve overcome it you can add something new.

You’ve probably made some serious lists about your habits by now, but which one will you tackle first? There are two ways of deciding this:

1. Tackle the easiest habit to break first
2. Tackle the habit that will have the nicest consequences first


Step 9: Do it until it’s done

I know it can be easy to grow impatient with change, but keep in mind that the amount of time it takes you to break a habit is most likely in ratio to the amount of time you’ve had it.

Change really happens when we are busy doing our new happy things and we don’t feel like we need to change anymore. That’s why 21 days is a good idea because it gives us an end point to celebrate, and celebrate we must!

But don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re home free after 21 days… you might be, but you might also need to stay vigilant and keep on going with your distraction and your substitution for as long as it takes.

When you make a mistake or go back to your old ways of doing things it’s not the end of the road. Just a prickly path you need to navigate on the way to the shiny new you.

Stay focused on what you are trying to achieve, accept that you’re habits might sometimes be stronger than you are and realise that that’s okay… You will get there in the end, provided you never give up.

Thinking of giving it a go? Get in touch with the IOF team first and we will be by your side to support you through it.


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