3 Tools You Need To Turn Your Bad Habits Into Good Ones

Use these tools diligently!

3 Mindfulness Exercises To Stop Bad Habits & How To Build A Good Habit getty

Everyone has a laundry list of bad habits and behavior that they want to want to change or destroy forever. It could be as simple and harmless as biting your nails (not recommended) or as destructive as an addiction.

No matter what it is, if you want to start a new habit or stop a destructive one, there is a solution in the form of mindfulness exercises.

RELATED: Your Worst Hard-To-Break Habit, According To Your Zodiac Sign


Breaking bad habits is easier said than done. The skills to learn how to do so should become habits themselves. And these tools are not only easy to remember but they also work rather well!

Here are the 3 mindfulness tools you need to change your bad habits and behavior into good ones. 

1. Start, stop, and shift

Choose a bad habit or behavior that you want to start, one you’d like to stop, and one you’d like to shift. Think of it like a traffic signal: What can you do more of? Less of? Stop entirely? Think of one area of your life and focus on that for this whole week.

Using this tool can work with various goals. For example:

  • You want to get healthier for this summer: Start moving your body for 5 minutes each day. Stop drinking beer or wine on weekdays. Shift your sleep habits.
  • You want less clutter around your house: Start scheduling 10-minutes daily declutter sessions. Stop going into stores to "browse" or looking at online sites when you don’t need anything. Shift how you manage new things when they come into the house (touch the mail only once, put the kids' shoes in the bin, etc.)
  • You want to feel less stressed and overwhelmed: Start meditating for 1 minute a day. Stop saying "yes" to things you don’t want or have to do. Shift how you think of your overwhelm (expect it, don’t resist it. Get curious "Why am I feeling overwhelmed right now?").
  • You want to be less reactive with your kids or yell less: Start writing down when you yell or are reactive (write down what was going on, what you were doing right before the incident, and what happened after). Stop blaming your kids or others for your behavior (seriously, for this week don’t allow yourself to blame someone else for your behavior). Shift your mindset by reading a book on mindful parenting or a podcast on emotional intelligence (Here’s a link to my recommended book list on Amazon and to the first of two great podcasts on emotional intelligence).

This start, stop, and shift habit works really well with all types of people because it allows you some wiggle room. It allows you to look at what you're doing well while giving you the encouragement to make a shift with things that aren’t working. It allows you to make the rules.

So choose one area of your life and try it this week. What will you start, stop, and shift?

2. Calm, honest, and action

One of my favorite life coaches uses this mindfulness-based cognitive technique. I love this tool because it attacks our behavior on a rational/conscious level while also going behind the scenes to address the parasympathetic nervous system. Addressing both of these makes behavior change easier.

Here’s how this 3-step process works: Set your alarm for two arbitrary times during your day. When your alarm goes off

  • Calm: Stop and ask yourself: "Am I calm?" Check in with your body: "Is my chest tight? Is my brow furrowed? Is my jaw clenched?"
  • Honest: "Am I being honest?" This is an important piece. I find myself frequently answering "yes" to the first question above but when I circle back to dig a bit deeper, I often find that no, I’m not as calm as I’d like to be, which leads to the next step,
  • Action: Do something to bring yourself closer to a state of calm. This could be any of our tools depending on where you are and the time you have: journaling, 3 breaths, quick movement, meditating, etc.

The beauty of this technique is two-fold.

By pausing in our day to check in with our emotional self, we improve our emotional intelligence. How? We teach our brain to pay attention to the connection between our mind and body. This leads to us being less reactive and stressed because we haven’t stuffed our emotions down.

And, by pausing and managing our emotional state during the day, we’re less likely to get to the end of the day frazzled and ready to break. This means that we're less likely to buffer with unhealthy behaviors (saying "I need this glass of wine because my day was crazy" or stress eating).

Try bringing calm, honest, and action into your life this week.


RELATED: 7 Bad Habits Nearly Everyone Does That Drain Your Energy & 7 Healthy Ones To Keep You Energized All Day Long

3. Pairing

This is all about tricking your brain in a kind way. Remember that the brain has a motivational triad. Its goal is to keep us alive so we can survive. Add to that, the brain is the most productive mini-computer in the world. It is wired to repeat behaviors over and over if we’ve done them before and survived (as shown by the  motivational triad, neuroplasticity, cognitive behavior therapy, and neuroscience).

For example, if we always have a glass of wine when we get home from work, the brain will do everything in its power to repeat that behavior over and over because hey, you’re still alive aren’t you? Our brain doesn’t care about the extra 15 pounds, the internal inflammation, the depressant nature of alcohol, or how groggy we feel in the morning.

Our brain asks the question: "Are you alive? Yes? Job done." In understanding that the brain will come up with excuses as to why we shouldn’t change our habits or behavior, we can overrule it. One way of doing this is to pair something positive with a desired new behavior.


For example, I do not love exercising on my elliptical. However, I do love to read. So, I pair reading with working out on the elliptical. I have a reading rack that allows me to get a great workout on the elliptical while reading some of my favorite books.

Here are some other ways you can use this tool:

  • If you are trying to consistently do laundry, put on your daily podcast while you fold.
  • If you are trying to eat more vegetables, get out a bag of carrots to munch on when you chat with your kids after school.
  • If you’re trying to get into bed earlier and you like doing Sudoku, keep your Sudoku book by your bed to do if you get in bed by a certain time.

What do you like to do? How can you pair that with a new behavior that you’d like to start doing?


Now, it’s up to you!

I am a firm believer that life can (and should) be grand. Where are you feeling a bit flat in your life? Choose an area of your life where you’re not feeling great or where you know you could be doing better, choose one of the above habit tools and go.

RELATED: The 5 Bad Habits Your Partner Finds Most Annoying About You, According To Science

Susie Pettit is a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Coach and Podcast host of the weekly Love Your Life Show. Sign up for Susie's Weekly Wellness Newsletter.