How Long Does It Actually Take to Break a Bad Habit? A Neuropsychotherapist Shares Her 3 Go-To Steps

It's challenging to break a habit. Whether your bad habit has to do with how you parent (or grandparent), involves your relationship, makes your anxiety worse, etc., it's usually already second nature by the time you realize you need to kick it to the curb. It's not easy to counteract this behavior—however, it's also not impossible. Below, a neuropsychotherapist shares exactly how to break a bad habit.

Parade aims to feature only the best products and services. If you buy something via one of our links, we may earn a commission.

Britt Frank, MSW, LSCSW, SEP, neuropsychotherapist, keynote speaker and author of The Science of Stuck: Breaking Through Inertia to Find Your Path Forward, as well as The Getting Unstuck Workbook: Practical Tools for Overcoming Fear and Doubt—and Moving Forward with your Life, understands how difficult it is to put a stop to habits that have become impulsive and feel natural. Thankfully, she also has advice on how to pull yourself out of this cycle and tells Parade all about her recommended system, which involves just three steps.

Related: 6 Things Successful People *Always* Do in a Conversation, According to a Neuropsychotherapist

How Do You Know If Something Is a Bad Habit?

"If you’re willing to get honest with yourself about the impact of your habits, you’ll very quickly discern whether or not a habit is objectively good, bad, or somewhere in between," Frank tells Parade.

For example, "'Yellow light' habits are the types of habits that aren’t innately bad for every person, but they are behaviors that need to be under close supervision or they can quickly spiral, she continues. "Yellow light habits include scrolling social media, drinking, staying up late, and binge-watching your favorite shows."

Why Are Habits So Tough To Break?

"Habits feel impossible to break because once a behavior is repeated with enough frequency, your brain’s team of energy conservationists will put that behavior on auto-pilot," Frank tells Parade. "Once a behavior is set to auto-pilot, it can be difficult—if not impossible—to break.

Related: 115 Hard Work Quotes That Will Motivate Us To Persevere

How To Break a Bad Habit: 3 Steps

"If you want to break a habit, you need to deactivate auto-pilot, and the fastest way to do this is to change up the routine of your day so your brain gets confused and shifts to manual," Frank explains. "Do your morning routine in a different order, take a different route to work, change up the order you do things at the end of your day, etc. My three steps to getting unstuck from anything—including habits are:

1. Focus on Action

"Don’t ask 'why' you’re stuck," Frank says. "Insight can be helpful, but insight does not lead to action. You don’t need to know 'why' you’re stuck in a habit in order to break it."

Related: 8 Phrases To Motivate Yourself When You're Feeling Stuck, According to Psychologists

2. Think About Mini Wins

"Instead of shooting for huge changes, identify a list of three 'micro-yesses,'" Frank tells Parade. "Micro-yesses are smaller than small steps and smaller than baby steps. A micro-yes is a step so small it feels silly to do it."

Frank previously shared these examples with Psychology Today:

Instead of: “I’ll work out tomorrow.”
A micro-yes could be: “I’m going to get dressed today.”

Instead of: “I’ll clean my space tomorrow.”
A micro-yes could be: “I’ll move the food from the counter to the trash today.

3. Start the Process

"After making your list of micro-yesses, pick one and do it," Frank says. "Give yourself credit for doing it."

Then, repeat.

Keep making progress bit by bit, and give yourself grace throughout the process—even if you're concerned you might slip up sometime in the future.

"You don’t need to worry that you 'might' want to give up and go back—that’s a guarantee," Frank explains. "But rather than worrying about going back in the future, choosing a micro-yes in the present increases your odds of sustainably changing whatever habit it is that you want to break."

Related: 12 Common Habits of People With High Emotional Intelligence, According to Psychologists

How Long Does It Actually Take To Break a Bad Habit?

"Some people think it takes 21 days to break a habit, but that number comes from a very specific study about how long it takes people to get used to seeing their face after plastic surgery," Frank says. "Breaking a habit depends on a huge variety of factors including stressors, environmental factors, genetics, access to resources and ability to make choices."

Next: 10 Simple Tips To Have Your Biggest Glow-Up in 2024, According to Life Coaches

<p>Courtesy Penguin Random House</p>

Courtesy Penguin Random House

Following the incredible response to her debut, The Science of Stuck, Frank is back to share a necessary tool to break through all of life's ruts from career to relationships and more. In THE GETTING UNSTUCK WORKBOOK (TarcherPerigee, 6/4), readers can implement her popular approach to life through exercises and activities designed to help you move past what’s holding you back. The workbook tackles step-by-step how to break bad habits, communicate more skillfully, stop the war in your head, and more.

Frank’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, NPR, New York Magazine, and more. Her audience flocks to her content for her relatable and approachable emotional wellness and healing methods.