How You Can


Your Habits


How to Replace Bad Habits with Good Ones: 
The Science of "Habit Management"
Copyright 2004 Stephen Kraus, Ph.D.

Few things are more difficult than kicking bad habits or 
developing more positive ones. But it is definitely worth 
the effort. Bad habits like smoking, overeating or self-
criticism shorten lives and lead to underachievement, 
and unsuccessful attempts to change them lower self-
esteem. In contrast, good habits create a kind of "success 
auto-pilot," leading to greater accomplishment with less 
thought and less effort.

So how do you best eliminate bad habits and create 
good ones? Research from the new field of "positive 
psychology" - the scientific study of happy, successful 
people - points to at least four proven techniques for 
successful habit management.

1. Replace a bad habit with a good one. Completely 
eliminating a habit is much harder than replacing it with 
a more productive habit. Studies of people who 
compulsively bite their fingernails have shown that it 
is very difficult for them to completely give up their habit, 
and much easier for them to substitute biting with the 
more productive habit of grooming their nails. Similarly, 
people who talk too much during meetings struggle to 
become silent, but find it much easier to replace their 
compulsive talking with highly attentive listening. 

2. Exercise. A habit of regular exercise is obviously 
important for lasting weight loss. But you may not realize 
that exercise helps in accomplishing a variety of goals, and 
in eliminating a number of bad habits. Frequent exercise 
helps break habits of overeating, and in kicking all kinds of 
addictions, particularly if exercise is substituted for an end-
of-the-day highball or cigarette. Among smokers who become 
competitive runners, for example, over 80% give up smoking. 

3. Reward success. The most fundamental law in all of 
psychology is the "law of effect." It simply states that 
actions followed by rewards are strengthened and likely 
to recur. Unfortunately, studies show that people rarely 
use this technique when trying to change personal habits. 
Dieters, for example, routinely overlook weeks of exercise 
and restrained eating, only to let a single lapse "snowball" 
into a total relapse and complete collapse. Setting up 
formal or informal rewards for success greatly increases 
your chances of transforming bad habits into good ones, 
and is far more effective than punishing yourself for bad 
habits or setbacks.

4. Schedule your bad habits. If you are really struggling to 
kick a bad habit, try limiting the habit to a specific time and 
place. If you are struggling to quit cigarettes, allow yourself 
to smoke from 9-9:30pm, and only in an uncomfortable 
"smoking stool." When the urge to smoke strikes, tell 
yourself that you'll have plenty of time to smoke during 
your pre-scheduled smoking period. Research and case 
studies confirm that this rather unconventional approach 
can be a useful first step in changing bad habits.


The findings and recommendations in this article are 
based on scientific research published in peer-reviewed 
journals. For complete references, see Psychological 
Foundations of Success: A Harvard-Trained Scientist 
Separates the Science of Success from Self-Help 
Snake Oil by Stephen Kraus, Ph.D.

Success Scientist Dr. Stephen Kraus is author of Psychological
Foundations of Success: A Harvard-Trained Scientist Separates 
the Science of Success from Self-Help Snake Oil. He was 
recently featured in Conversations on Success, along with 
Brian Tracy and Wally "Famous" Amos. Steve has a Ph.D. in
psychology from Harvard University. To contact him or 
subscribe to his REAL Science of Success ezine, please visit

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