February Wellness Challenge: Break a Bad Habit

How to Break a Bad Habit

I’m excited about February’s wellness challenge because it’s one I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and if I have all of you holding me accountable, maybe it will actually happen once and for all.

This month is all about breaking a bad habit. 

So it was truly kismet when I made a new friend last month (one of the moms from Amalia’s daycare) who is a psychology professor and researcher who studies…wait for it…habits and self-control. I mean I couldn’t have met her at a better time, right? I picked her brain about the topic and learned a few things about bad habits and how to break them. But first, let’s recap last month’s challenge.

Dry January Recap

I’ve done Dry January many times in the past, but for some reason this time felt even better than usual. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard after week one, but physically I’ve never felt better. I don’t really drink that much but apparently even a few drinks per week make a bigger difference than I thought:

My sinuses are totally clear. I realize this isn’t something that everyone can relate to, but if you have any sinus issues, taking alcohol completely out of the mix makes a huge difference. This was far and away the most exciting side effect of my Dry January. I always knew that the morning after a glass of wine I would feel more stuffed up, but I didn’t realize that a full month off would allow me to breathe 100% clearly. Literally I don’t remember the last time I blew my nose which, for me, is quite the achievement.

I have more energy. I fine that I wake up every morning with more energy and less fogginess. And my 3pm slump doesn’t feel so slumpy. That’s a word, right?

I’ve lost weight. I wasn’t actually trying to lose any weight but when I went to my J.Crew Factory event earlier in the month, I realized that I didn’t fit into my usual jean size so I sized down. I didn’t totally believe it so I tried on another brand of jeans and it was the same story. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so fit and strong. Part of that is my weekly workouts but I think cutting out alcohol amplified this in a big way… Which is kind of shocking because I ate a lot more sugar than usual.

The other thing I have to admit is that I did have one drink when my sister was visiting. We went to one of my favorite local restaurants (Kawa Ni) which makes my favorite local drink (The Kyushiki which is basically an Old Fashioned made with smoked soy sauce), and it was a really fun night so I decided to go for it. The point of these challenges is to feel good and that one drink made me feel good! That said, I did notice a big difference in my energy the next morning so that was the only slip up.

On February 1st, I went out for drinks with some friends and woke up on Saturday morning with a headache and feeling terrible. This challenge really opened my eyes as to how much alcohol effects my physical state. I don’t plan to keep it cut out forever, but I’m hoping that I’ll be more thoughtful about when and how much I drink going forward.

February Wellness Challenge: Break a Bad Habit

As you may have guessed by my super awkward photo, the habit that I’m going to try and break this month is biting my hangnails. It’s a disgusting habit that I’ve had for years and it’s 1000% tied to anxiety. When I’m feeling anxious or nervous, I bite them to the point where they bleed. Sorry, I know that’s so gross! I literally go through boxes of Band-Aids like a crazy person because of it. More often than not, I have a Band-Aid wrapped around my thumb. It’s also part of the reason why I get manicures so often. Having my nails painted stops me somewhat from the biting for whatever reason.

I was going to try and break multiple bad habits as a part of this challenge, but I realized I want to nip this in the bud for real this time, and if it works, I can continue with another habit next.

Anel is also joining me in this challenge and will be working to break his habit of snacking at night.

Steps to Break a Bad Habit

I spent last week reading a bunch of articles and blog posts on breaking bad habits and pulled bits and pieces from the ones I liked (sourced below if you want to read more on the topic) to create a list of tips. Then I did a little interview with my new friend Jessica, the psychology professor, to fill in the blanks.

The biggest lesson that I learned in this mini research project are that habits are really just behavior patterns and the key to breaking the bad habit itself is to break the patterns and basically rewire your brain into working with new patterns.

1. Identify your trigger. Pretty much everything I read noted that identifying what triggers these patterns should be the first step in breaking them. Is it stress? Your environment? The time of day? What is going on for you when you start doing whatever it is you’re trying to stop? If you don’t already know what is triggering your behavior, take note of your thoughts next time it starts. Take note of what you’re feeling, where you are, and what time of day it is.

Julia: For me, I know my trigger is stress or anxiety. I often don’t even realize I’m doing it, but when I do notice, it’s always during a tough time.

Anel: What’s interesting about Anel’s late-night snacking is that when I asked him if he’s hungry when he does it, he said not really. It’s just a part of his routine and he’s become used to it. So although he hasn’t quite figured it out yet, we’re working on identifying his trigger and will report back.

2. Focus on that trigger. While you’re working on breaking the habit, simultaneously focus on fixing whatever is triggering you. Because the trigger usually goes hand in hand with the habit, this step is crucial in making a lasting change.

Julia: Since I’ve gone on medication, I’ve noticed that I’ve been biting my hangnails less. I haven’t completely stopped, but it’s definitely less. So I have kind of an unfair advantage here because I’ve already started dealing with my trigger itself. But going deeper, it’s usually work or finance related stress or anxiety that causes me to start biting. So one of my big goals this month is to figure out how to deal with work in a healthy way and really get on top of our family budgets.

Anel: We’ll update you once we get there for him!

3. Replace a bad habit with a good one. I love this step because it is similar to something I practice in therapy where when I have an anxious thought, I try to replace it with a positive one. After doing it many times, I’ve really started to believe my new thoughts, even though at first they were just words.

Julia: An example of this in my bad habit situation might be when I go to bite my nail, I catch myself, stop the routine, and instead do five jumping jacks. Obviously that’s a silly thing to do but it’s drastic enough that it would make me think twice about biting in the first place. A more realistic new habit might be to take a deep breath instead.

Anel: His plan is to drink a glass of water whenever he gets up for his snack and catches himself in the act. Simple but hopefully effective. Even though he has yet to identify his trigger, he can still work on breaking the habit with this step.

So will you join us for this month’s wellness challenge? If so, what is the habit that you would like to break?


TIME: 5 Science-Approved Ways to Break a Bad Habit
Psychology Today: How to Break Bad Habits
Life Hacker: Top 10 Ways to Break Bad Habits
Mindful.org: A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit

Photo by Julia Dags.

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  1. olivia said:

    I bite my nails for soooo long so I am with you on it! I stopped almost one year ago, and I am so proud but there is still days that I struggle to no do it again!!!
    I think my really bad habit for now is that I can’t sleep if I am not listening to kaamelott (it’s a French really funny serie). I need it so bad to sleep, I can’t sleep if there is no noise, but I need this particular noise because I know it by heart so I don’t need to really listen and in the same time if I have trouble falling asleep it cheers me up…
    But I have no idea what I could do instead… how to fight it… how I could sleep without it (And trust me if I don’t sleep I really am awfull^^)
    I will try to think of something!

    2.4.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      That sounds like a good challenge! Does white noise help or no?

      2.4.19 · Reply
      • Olivia said:

        I don’t think it would help… what’s work with kaamelott is that it entertained me when I can’t sleep, and it happened sooo often (like right now, it’s 2am and I tried sleeping for an hour an a half ><)

        2.5.19 · Reply
  2. Libby said:

    Yes!! I feel like there are several bad habits I could break, but I think either screen time right before bed or afternoon coffee could be good ones for me! I am totally on board!

    xoxo Libby

    2.4.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Screen time before bed is such a big one! I broke that habit about a year ago and it has helped the quality of my sleep quite a bit.

      2.4.19 · Reply
  3. Christy said:

    I will join! For me it is snacking When I get hone from work ( too early for dinner). So much so that I don’t want to cook for my family and then when I do I don’t eat it. Then later before bed I’m starving!

    2.4.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I’ve gone through that phase too! The key for me was to have snacks in my office drawer to eat around 3:30/4 instead of eating when I got home at 5/5:30. It made a big difference!

      2.4.19 · Reply
  4. Melissa Symons said:

    Hi! I love this! So I’m even worse, I bite my nails. It’s also triggered by anxiety. It was already one of my (many!) New Year’s resolutions to stop and I was actually doing well my nails were getting so long I had to file them BUT with some stress this past weekend I slipped up and started again. Ugh. It’s such an embarrassing habit and gross (I feel like I must pick up a lot of germs) so I want and need to stop. But not exactly something to bring up to friends so nice to have this virtual support group ☺️ I’m in we CAN do this

    2.4.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      It’s so embarrassing, I agree. When I show up to parties or events with a Band-Aid I always make up the dumbest excuse. But let’s beat it together!!

      2.4.19 · Reply
  5. Meghan said:

    A lot of times I go to bed without washing my face (I know, I know)! I’ll wipe it with a cleansing wipe but I skip my nightly skin regimen and I always go to bed feeling bad about it! Going to try to do it earlier in the evening so I don’t wait until I’m completely wiped out to do it. Fingers crossed!

    2.4.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      You got this! Maybe write a little sticky note on your mirror for motivation. Kind of cheesy but I bet it will work!

      2.4.19 · Reply
  6. Liz said:

    Ugh I have to break my nightly snack (mainly ice cream) habit after I put the kids to bed! I recently picked it up again while my husband has been traveling. I can’t go totally sugar free, but I’m going to cut back!

    P.S. have you heard of the Pure Wine Wand? I saw it on One Small Blonde’s blog. It’s supposed to help remove histamines and sulfites when you pour your glass. I only drink at home when I entertain (dessert is more my vice) but I want to try it!

    2.4.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      OMG the Pure Wine Wand is my life! I never drink wine without it anymore. Game changer for anyone with sinus issues!! Definitely get it.

      2.4.19 · Reply
  7. Emily said:

    Love this! I’m going to try to break my bad habit of watching TV before bed instead of reading. I just picked up a new book called The Gratitude Diaries and I have been wanting to start it for a while. Can’t wait to try this! Thanks, Julia!

    2.4.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Nice! You should join our book group too! Reading before bed is one of my favorite times of day.

      2.4.19 · Reply
  8. Becca said:

    Last year I discovered THE best app for budgeting. It’s called You Need A Budget (YNAB for short) and it’s available on the web and on your phone. It’s zero-based budgeting and works for all kinds of income (e.g. steady salary and freelance) and it makes your financial reality crystal clear. It forces you to prioritize where your money goes and it has been life-changing for me! I paid off my debt and no longer live paycheck-to-paycheck. A real game changer! Could be helpful in kicking that nail habit 😉

    2.4.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      This is amazing, thank you! Just signed up. It seems so much easier than budgeting apps I’ve used in the past. I hope it works!

      2.4.19 · Reply
  9. Becky said:

    I really need this one:)

    2.4.19 · Reply
  10. Gina said:

    FYI There is a book by Gretchen Rubin that you may enjoy called Better Than Before. It’s about making/breaking habits and overall living a happier life. It talks about how the approach is different for everyone, etc. Interesting stuff!

    2.4.19 · Reply
  11. Michele said:

    I will join you! Like your husband, I tend to snack at night. Even when doing Whole30 in January I would have a snack after dinner. Often I wasn’t even hungry. I really, really want to break this habit!

    2.4.19 · Reply
  12. Laura said:

    I would love to join in too!! My bad habit is playing with my hair, twirling it/touching it constantly. I know for a fact it’s related to my job which gets really stressful, but I haven’t figured out a good way to break it at all lol. I am going to find the Facebook group and join because I have been wanting to break this habit for so long.

    2.4.19 · Reply
  13. kit said:

    go easy on yourself.
    I was a thumb sucker to the point of stunting the growth of my front teeth!
    I also had speech problems from the lack of teeth to form the proper sounds.
    my orthodontist glued braces with prongs onto the tooth nubs.
    the thumb sucking was done and the teeth grew in beautifully.
    (yes, there was also a period of nail biting. my nail beds start way back as a result)
    45 years later, I still sleep with my head resting on my hand.
    I find the pressure on my cheek comforting.

    maybe you could cut yourself some slack in the beginning.
    little steps are easier to achieve than going “cold turkey”
    try resting your finger on your chin, without putting the nail in your mouth.
    gentle pressure might be enough while you ease into keeping your hands away.
    even at that, you will be reminded and aware.

    2.9.19 · Reply