10/30/2015 02:00 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2016

How To Break Habits

How do I break habits? originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question.

Answer by Milena Rangelov, PhD student of civil engineering, blogger, on Quora.

This is a great question and something all of us struggle with to a certain extent. Here are my ten ideas:

  1. Little by little (this may not work for everyone and for all the habits). If you want to quit drinking coffee with sugar, put half teaspoon less sugar this week. Next week a bit less and so on.
  2. Don't erase. Replace. Habits are powerful and you won't be able to erase it, leaving the empty space. Do something else, something good instead. If you want to stop drinking coffee, replace it with herbal tea. If you want to stop watching TV in the night, replace it with reading. Smokers who want to quit usually have a package of gum or candies handy.
  3. Get a bit crazy about it. That's good. For instance, give your roommate your email password so that you cannot check your email  before you write or do your workout in the morning. Make a calendar and cross the days off, trying to make the longest chain. Make a party after a month of success.
  4. Get an accountability partner. But very strict one. Try stickK. There are plenty of great people on their way to changing habits. Share your success stories. Tell many friends: "Hey, I am trying to quit smoking/drinking/sugar/watching TV." Accountability is a powerful motivation booster.
  5. Distract yourself. Erasing a habit may be trickier than incorporating a new one. If I tell you not to think about the Eiffel tower, you will see yourself there immediately. You have to get very good at distracting yourself. Always have a bottle of water handy if sugar cravings hit. Pile up good books, blog posts and videos if you are quitting TV or too much time on social networks. Have an alternative.
  6. Identify when it gets worst. If you want to quit TV, it may be worst in the evenings, so you may want to get a gym membership, join some club or find a buddy to go for a walk with you then. For smoking/drinking/sugar, it may be worst at social events, so you may want to avoid a few parties until you get used to your new behavior. Analyze and see what are the critical moments and make a back-up plan.
  7. Can you be moderate? Sometimes complete eradication of the habit may not be the best solution. If you are a disciplined person and can eat two cookies a week, why torture yourself by cutting all sugar ever? If you drink one glass of wine on Saturday night, it is still OK. (Many people who completely quit something tend to go out and give the lecture to everyone: "Hey, I have quit drinking. You should too. Are you even aware how bad it is for your liver and brain. And calories..." People (including me) hate these preachers with their good intentions. If you can be moderate, you are still a human being with some guilty pleasures.) However, not all of us can be moderate and not for each habit. Sometimes we really need it eradicated to be free. (Gretchen Rubin wrote about it and you may find it helpful. Quiz: Are you a Moderator or an Abstainer, When Trying to Give Something Up?)
  8. What is the gap it fills? This is a big question and it's not easy to answer it. We turn to bad habits because we feel lonely, uncomfortable, not accepted, bored, purposeless. When we feel this way, we go for something easy that will fill in the gap. Dig deep. Discover what is underneath and try to have your needs met. Create, have rest, re-hydrate, give yourself some love.
  9. Do you really want to quit? Confession: I was a weekend smoker for quite a few years at the beginning of college. I always knew I would quit sooner or later but for some reason I wasn't determined. And then one morning (after a party), I just said: "Screw it. I quit." It was not hard. But I needed to decide. All the tools and ideas are good, but none of them will work if you are not determined. Do you really want to quit? Examine the reasons underneath your habit. Let the idea of quitting marinate a bit in your head. You will know when you're ready.
  10. Don't forget to celebrate! Day after a day be grateful and proud. Recognize your small successes. Celebrate your small victories. Acknowledging your growth will bring you more growth.

I hope this list will inspire and empower you to change slightly today. (Maybe just your mind. Maybe just your thoughts. And tomorrow a bit more. And a bit more...

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