16 Ways to Empower Others to Change Bad Habits: The Science of Success

changing bad habits

Many people find themselves in a rut and can’t seem to get out. Unwanted habits such as drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or overeating can all contribute to a lack of self-confidence and an inability to make changes to improve one’s life. These bad habits start off small and snowball by the time we understand the damage they cause us.

Do you know someone who needs help in bringing their life back on the right track? Well, you can change someone else’s life for the better by empowering them to exercise good habits. According to psychology professor Wendy Wood, habits are what make almost 43% of our everyday activities. So, whether you’re helping your partner quit smoking or your friend get out of debt, teaching them to form good habits will help immensely.

How to Empower Others to Change Bad Habits

We will talk about 16 ways that can empower others to make changes in their lives.

Let’s dive in!

1) Hold your judgment

Do not be too critical of people when they try to change. You must be supportive and positive when helping them build better habits. It’s a mistake to associate bad habits with their personality, as it will only discourage them.

Remember that you are there to change a specific behavior, not the person. Constant reprimand won’t do any good in this case. Positive reinforcement works much better than negative feedback.

2) Help them to identify and cut the triggers

If your loved one knows what triggers their bad habit, they can be more prepared to deal with them. For example, if drinking alcohol is a way for them to deal with stress, they can try to find other methods of stress relief, such as exercise or meditation.

Triggers can be anything from certain people or places to emotions like boredom or stress. So, they should prepare a plan to avoid the temptation when in the company of those people or in those specific places. Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer showed in a study that having a strategy to deal with those situations works like a charm.

For example, if the trigger is being unable to refuse when someone offers a drink, they can prepare a response like “I’ll have fruit juice instead.”

3) Join forces with them

This is especially helpful if the person trying to change their habit is someone close to you, like a partner or a friend. Working together towards a common goal can be very motivating and make the journey more enjoyable. This will also help them stay accountable for their actions.

Let them know you’re there for them. Assure them that they have people in their lives who support and believe in them. Help them realize they aren’t going through this journey alone. Make sure to let them know you’re there for them when things get tough. They should feel supported during the entire process by having someone at their side cheering them on.

4) Show them the benefits of making a change

When someone is trying to make a change, they need to see that it will be worth it in the end. In other words, focus on motivating instead of intimidating when you talk about how their life will improve after changing bad habits.

People are more likely to change if they can see how it will positively impact their lives. So, highlight the benefits of good habits and how they can improve their life in the long run. This could be anything from feeling better about themselves to save more money.

5) Suggest an alternative to the bad habits

People cannot just stop doing something. Getting rid of a regular habit creates a blank space in their daily routine. This void is often filled with cravings and stress, which can lead to relapse.

An easier way to break a habit is to replace it with a new one. This could be anything from exercise to meditation. When the person you’re helping feels the urge to indulge in their bad habit, suggest that they do something else instead. This will help them avoid the stress that comes from suddenly removing a regular habit, and it could help them be more successful in breaking the old one.

For example, if someone is trying to quit smoking, you can suggest they start vaping, which is a healthier alternative. People addicted to soft drinks can try drinking fruit juice or plain water.

With an alternative, they can create a new routine that’s healthier and more positive. And the sooner they can replace the old bad habit with a new good one, the better.

6) Help them set realistic goals

The process of forming a new habit requires setting realistic goals. The person you’re helping might be tempted to set their goals too high. This could lead to frustration and feelings of failure if they can’t meet the expectations.

Help them set small, manageable goals that they can accomplish in a short period. This will keep them motivated and encouraged as they progress on their journey. Once they’ve mastered the smaller goals, they can then move on to bigger ones.

Related article: Creative Thinking: What is it, Why is it Important, and How to Develop it?

7) Give reminders without pushing too hard

Empowering means making people enable to do something on their own, not pushing them to the edge. Don’t make the mistake of pressuring them into quitting or giving overwhelming advice about what they should do instead. They might be sensitive and feel judged if you’re too critical. This could lead to them feeling discouraged and less likely to succeed.

Rather than telling them what to do, offer helpful reminders in a supportive way. For example, if they’re trying to quit smoking, you can remind them of the health benefits of quitting or offer encouragement when they’re struggling. This will help them feel like they’re not alone on their journey.

8) Be understanding, not controlling 

When working as a mentor, it could be tempting to force people to see things your way and change the habit already. But this will lead to pushback and resentment rather than positive reinforcement. This could cause them to rebel or give up altogether.

It’s always better to be understanding and supportive instead of controlling when someone is trying to change a bad habit. Create an open line of communication. They will feel more comfortable talking with you about their struggles. It will also show them that you care and want what’s best for them.

But it’s probably not a bad idea to keep tabs on them. A research study showed that 42% of smokers in a smoking cessation program became successful in quitting when others supported them by tweeting twice daily. Open encouragement and support made them more accountable in reaching their target.

9) Provide support without removing responsibility 

You should not micromanage a person and tell them what they should do at every step. To empower others, it’s necessary to give them space and allow them to thrive. They should come up with solutions to their problems.

Spoonfeeding does not really help when you are teaching someone to take control of their life. So, offer support without removing responsibility. This means you should give advice and suggestions to help them find the best way. Rather than assuming responsibility for their actions, allow them to take ownership of what they do.

10) Make it harder for them to indulge in bad habits

As we age and our habits become more ingrained, it becomes increasingly difficult to rid ourselves of the bad habits we’ve built up over time. This is because our brains find it easier to revert back to old habits.

Breaking a bad habit is difficult. So you need to make it harder for them to indulge in those habits. Force them out of their comfort zone to break the habit cycle.

A common way to create obstacles for habits like overeating or smoking is to use physical reminders. Using things like wristbands or fridge magnets, one can keep themselves accountable for their behavior.

Other ways include putting the desired item (such as cigarettes) in a hard-to-reach place, not keeping unhealthy food around the house, and sharing goals with friends. It’ll be easier for them to resist giving in when they have to work around obstacles.

11) Teach them to exercise self-control

The first step to developing self-control is knowing what it is and why it matters. Self-control is the ability to resist temptation, choose the long-term over the short-term, and maintain focus. They need to figure out how best to resist that tempting marshmallow.

Also, associating something negative with the addiction may work in unlearning a habit. For example, tell someone trying to lose weight to do 10 push-ups whenever they eat something unhealthy. Similarly, smoking a cigarette can land them extra weekend duties.

12) Use positive reinforcement 

Everyone is different. So, forcing or punishment won’t work for many people. In that case, motivate them to do so with positive reinforcement. This means rewarding or giving them a special treat when they get to a certain milestone. Celebrate each small victory along the way.

This will help them stay motivated and encouraged on their journey. Plus, it’ll make them more likely to stick with the new habit in the long run.

A study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that people who received positive feedback for their weight loss efforts were more likely to stick to their diet in the long run. So, be sure to compliment them on any progress they’ve made, no matter how small it may seem. This will help them stay motivated and encouraged to continue working hard.

13) Track their progress

Another way to encourage people to change their bad habits is by tracking their progress. For example, you could set up a chart with the person’s name at the top and make a mark every time they achieve a milestone.

This will help them see how far they’ve come and how much progress they’re making. Plus, it’ll give them something to look forward to as they continue working on their bad habit.

14) Be patient

Changing bad habits is not an easy process. It takes time, effort, and patience. So be sure to be supportive and understanding of their journey. Offer encouragement when they feel discouraged and praise them for their hard work.

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. People cannot break their bad habits overnight. It’s impossible. Everyone involved in the process needs to be patient to create a lasting impact. Just be there to support them every step of the way.

15) Teach them to practice self-care 

Self-care is an essential, yet overlooked aspect of living a healthy lifestyle. People need to take care of their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

The benefits of self-care are enormous. It can lead to greater happiness, less stress, healthier relationships with other people, and feeling more connected with the world around.

Teach struggling people to practice self-care, so they can experience the good things in life. It will protect them from feeling overwhelmed or burnt out.

16) Encourage them to seek professional help

If someone still fails to improve their bad habits, you should encourage them to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor could provide them with the support they need to make lasting changes.

They may also offer useful advice and suggestions on how to change their lifestyle. This is especially helpful for those who have tried and failed to break their bad habits in the past.


You can help your loved ones change their bad habits by using the 16 strategies discussed here. Not every tactic will work on everyone. Someone may respond to give them space while another person will feel comfortable with the offer (and suggestion) of alternatives to their old ways of acting. You just have to figure out which tactic or strategy will work best in each particular situation.

But most importantly, you should not try to replace their bad habits with your own good habits. Remember, it’s their journey, not yours. Let them take the lead. You just be there to support them every step of the way.


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