How to Kick Your Bad Habits to the Curb Right Now

A messy unmade bed

How to Kick Your Bad Habits to the Curb Right Now


There are some books I categorize as “must reads” for Catholics today.

Forming Intentional Disciples, by Sherry Weddell is one. Divine Renovation, by Fr. James Mallon is one. Good News about Sex and Marriage, by Christopher West is one. The Bible is one (just saying!).

There are others, and maybe that’s a future blog post but one I want to put on the list today is The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. 

Duhigg’s study of habit and the way it shapes our lives is fascinating. Using several case studies he illustrates how unconscious behaviours and half-choices make up so much of our days without our realizing it. It’s like our lifestyles are grooved in over time, making it easier and easier to run on autopilot (for better or for worse).

What is really empowering is that he shows how bad habits can really be changed over time.

How is this possible? By taking yourself off of autopilot and looking closely at the things you tend to do. When you identify a habit you can dissect it and, if desired, change it.

Duhigg shows that habits are made of 3 components: cues, routines, and rewards.

An example: the alarm goes off in the morning (cue); I hit the snooze button (routine); and I get 9 more minutes of sleep (reward).

Another example: TV show I am watching on Netflix ends on a cliffhanger (cue); I tell myself, “It’s late, but one more episode wont hurt too much...” (routine); I watch one more episode and feel temporary gratification (reward).

You may have picked up that both of these cases feature habits one might want to change: sleeping in, and (related) staying up too late.

How do I change these bad habits? By identifying the cue and reward, and changing the routine.

If I am setting my alarm for a specific time, I probably want to get up at that time for some reason! So the snooze button is a bit of a contradiction, isn’t it? What is the greater reward I was aiming for? And how can I change my routine(s) to reach this reward?

Some examples: maybe I go to bed earlier; set out my gym clothes the night before; set up my coffee mug and prayer corner the night before; put my alarm clock away from the bed; etc.

What might I do to kick the Netflix binge? Maybe take a 10 minute break after an episode, allowing the adrenaline of the cliffhanger to die down. Maybe I remind myself that a decision to go to bed late is a decision to sleep in or be tired the next day, and ask whether the trade off is really worth it.

Why do I say that all Catholics should read this? Because all Catholics are called to be saints! And saints are people who again and again cooperate with God’s grace by making holy choices.

As Fr. Dubay says:

“Holiness is not so much the result of pious feelings but of actual choices.”

Becoming holy is about seeking the highest rewards over the lower ones.

Where are you settling for lesser rewards in your life? What would it take to reach the higher one?

Another aspect that wowed me in this book is that he showed how communities develop habits, and this has a lot to offer us as a church. What are the things we are striving for? And how are these evident in our communal habits?

My wife and I and a friend recently started an online community that is set on developing the habit of evangelizing. We know that this requires people cultivating habits together and supporting each other if real change is to happen, if the New Evangelization is to become more than an idea but a reality.

But we know that change is possible.

"Grace builds upon nature,” the famous dictum goes, and if we are to truly participate with the grace that God offers us we will look at our habits closely.

And then recreate them according to his image.

Question: if you could change one habit today, what would it be?

Now knowing that you can change it, what is it worth to you to change it? What is the real reward you are seeking?

Saints are people who again and again cooperate with God’s grace by making holy choices. #powerofhabit — Josh Canning

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