How to Conquer a Horrible Habit You Hate

Five steps to stop doing what you don’t want to

I’m never more disgusted with myself than when I continue to practice a horrible habit I hate. There’s hardly anything that frustrates me more. Yet sometimes the habit is so entrenched, I just cannot seem to shake it. Or, just when I seem to be getting victory, the habit grabs me by the throat and pulls me back again.

Of some comfort is the fact that I know others struggle with this same issue. In fact, the great Apostle Paul made this confession: “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15 NLT)

Can you relate?

Here’s the good news: We can have victory. The Bible promises: “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand.” (1 Corinthians 10:13a NLT)

Here are five steps to conquer a horrible habit you hate:

1. Eliminate Hesitation

Make a firm commitment to overcoming the horrible habit. No doubts. No hesitations.

Sometimes we don’t overcome because we simply love our horrible habit more than we hate it. Our willpower isn’t enough because we like the feelings or other benefits we get from the habit.

For example, an addict might hate his habit, but not enough to overcome it.

Thankfully, God gives us a choice, just as he said through Moses in Deuteronomy 30:15, Eliminate Hesitation “Today I am giving you a choice between good and evil, between life and death. If you obey the commands of the Lord your God … then you will prosper…” (GN)

Please be aware that we must make this decision for ourselves—no one can make it for us. And we can’t decide for others.

So, what horrible habit will you decide to overcome today?

It might be a habit of finger nail biting, cursing, cheating, overeating, smoking, drinking to excess, drug abuse, exaggerating, promiscuity, lying, yelling at the kids or others, habitually being late, being short-tempered, procrastinating, criticism, gossip, or something else

To overcome, we must first make a firm decision to change and eliminate hesitation.

But willpower is not usually enough. It takes more, which leads to step 2:

2. Envision Victory

After deciding, we must get a clear picture of what our victory will be like.

Too often we focus on the problem, instead of the solution. We focus on the horrible habit instead of the sweet success. We focus on the failure instead of the victory.

Let’s learn from this biblical example: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize…” (Philippians 3:13b-14a)

The metaphor is a runner in a race who has his eyes fixed on the goal. He is straining every muscle as he presses toward the goal to win the gold medal. He is not distracted by anything else.

Runners can lose a race by looking over their shoulder to check on the competition. It slows them down. Likewise, we need to stop focusing on the bad habit, and instead focus on the change we are making:

  • Someone losing weight may want to put a picture of a trim person where they can look to a model of what they want to become.
  • A person learning to be on time might add some clocks in strategic places.
  • Someone learning to speak more kindly might want to think of a friend who is always kind.
  • The person wanting to quit wasting time watching TV might want to put a timer by the TV and set it for one hour, stopping when it goes off.

Another great way to envision victory is to talk to people who have quit the horrible habit you want to eliminate. When you do that, they will often give glowing reports of how they feel since accomplishing the goal. For example, the ex-smoker will talk about the wonderful taste of food, the clean smell of the air, and the sense of self-respect from whipping a habit which would have cut two to ten years off one’s life.

3. Enjoy a Replacement

Here’s some bad news: Most will probably never eliminate any bad habits. It is virtually impossible to eliminate a bad habit.

But here’s some good news: It’s a hundred times easier to replace a bad habit with a good one.

Thus, it is vital to have a new activity or habit to fill the void when you start overcoming a bad habit.

For example, Dr. Bill Schmelzer, MD offers a suggestion for breaking the smoking habit: In the spot you have your cigarettes, put a pocket sized New Testament. Then when you have the habit-formed movement to reach for the pack, instead you fill your hand with God’s lifesaving Word. Instead of shortening your life expectancy, you take a step to extend it.[1] Then read some of the passages like we have been looking at in this article. This helps one substitute for the muscular habit and puts an extremely positive habit in its place.

1 Timothy 6:17 says, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (NIV)

God wants us to enjoy life! He is not some sort of cosmic killjoy out to take all the fun out of life. He just wants us to have good things, not the bad. Substitute positive things for negative things.

Other examples:

  • Replace junk food with healthy food.
  • Substitute kind words for gossip.
  • Replace eating with exercise.
  • Substitute reading for watching TV.

4. Enlist in a Support System

Though you might do great with the first three steps, you need something more. It is something that you can’t get by yourself. You need a support system.

I am talking about support systems such as:

  • An accountability partner
  • A mentor or coach
  • A Bible study or small group
  • Celebrate Recovery (a Christ-centered recovery program)
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Gamblers Anonymous
  • Weight Watchers

These relationships and groups provide great encouragement and accountability. The groups are usually filled with caring fellow-overcomers who know both the bitterness of defeat and the sweetness of victory. There are countless stories of “I did it and so can you.”

For the best support, whenever possible, I recommend you seek out a Christ-centered group or accountability partner. Hebrews 10:25a says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…”

5. Engage the Helper

This last step is the most important. It is the help of God to overcome a horrible habit.

As noted earlier, the Apostle Paul wrote about his struggles with bad habits in Romans 7. He speaks very frankly about the fight he has. But he also tells us to place our hope in the help of the Lord:

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.” (Romans 7:15, 24-25a NTCE)

The point of this passage is that Jesus helps us when we ask Him to. This extra power is the “secret sauce” of overcoming horrible habits.

Are you aware that A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous) was started as a Christian organization, built on Christian principles from the Bible. One of them is that you must admit you are POWERLESS to overcome the alcohol addiction. Another is that you must have the help of a higher power. Today that higher power can be anything including a tree, and A.A. has drifted in this area. But the fact is that they are right in the concept of needing God’s power.

This same Apostle Paul also wrote: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

Now you might object: “Well that’s Paul. But I’m not sure I could have the same success. I have struggled and fought with my horrible habit and sins and I just can’t seem to overcome.”

But consider Titus 2:11-12 which says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” (NIV)

The power of God is available to “all men” as it says here, and of course that is a generic term meaning all people. When we have that gift of God’s grace that brings salvation, we can say “no” to all the horrible habits we hate.

In conclusion, nowhere in this article have I promised that conquering a horrible habit will be easy. Sometimes it is incredibly challenging. But what I am promising is that with these steps it will be far more achievable.

So, get started now. You can do it!

Your thoughts are welcome! Please leave your comment below.

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[1]Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top, p. 286.