Jennifer Wright, Clinical Psychologist

Habits are a choice, no matter how addicted to them you might feel. You may well be addicted to staying in bed on a cold winter morning, but would prefer to stay healthy, so you rise at 5.30 and go to your yoga class. Your preference for health and fitness is stronger than your need for warmth and comfort.

We spend lots of time talking and worrying about our bad habits, which are probably better described as unhelpful habits. If we drink too much alcohol, or smoke too many cigarettes, or talk too much, it's probably unhelpful to yourself and others. Habits are unhelpful if they have a negative effect on us and reduce our quality of life. When trying to break unhelpful habits, the following steps can be useful.

1. Identify the costs of the habit.

Consider what you could gain from breaking the unhelpful habit. Think about aspects of your life that you might be missing out on because of your habit. Your habit could be affecting your health, relationships, finances, vitality and your emotional state.

2. Identify the barriers to change.

Your habit could provide you with short-term pleasure. Staying in bed in the morning or having that first glass of wine in the evening does seem like a good idea at the time. Think about other ways you could achieve a feeling of pleasure, that could improve the quality of your life in the longer term. A part of you could be saying that there is no point in trying to break the habit, because that part of you (the smoker or the drinker) doesn't want you to stop or doesn't believe that you can do it. Perhaps your procrastinating part keeps telling you to start tomorrow, next week or next month. You need to help these parts of yourself to understand that their beliefs are not helpful.

3. Identify the triggers for the habit.

Perhaps there are specific times or situations where your habit is most likely to seem attractive. See if you can be mindful as to when these situations occur. Be aware of the thoughts and feelings that occur to make the habit seem attractive. When you are next about to satisfy your habit, notice how your body is feeling and what your mind is saying. It is important to be aware of the triggers that cause you to indulge in your habit. Once you have done this you can go ahead and do what you want to do - such as have that drink, smoke that cigarette or eat that third piece of cake. Writing down your triggers can give you a greater awareness about the different triggers that support your habit - emotionally, mentally and physically.

4. Distinguish triggers from causes.

You can become aware of the triggers in your life without having them cause (or lead to) an unwanted behaviour. If you are mindful of your triggers, you can choose how to react to them.

5. Develop mindfulness skills to handle the triggers.

By learning to breakdown the unhelpful stories that different parts of your mind can create, you will recognise what is really important to you. Take time to breathe in and create space for the feelings that arise in your body. Sit for 30 seconds with the urge to participate in your habit, without doing anything about it. This way you can reflect on what you really want to do.

6. Use values to create alternative habits that are more helpful.

You can guarantee that you are going to stop your habit. Dr Russell Harris says that to stop the habit is a dead persons goal‚ because a dead person can be guaranteed to never drink again. A live persons goal is to find something that will change your behaviour. Instead of having a drink or a cigarette, you might stand up, stretch and take a few deep breaths. You can make choices for yourself and use your values to change your behaviour when triggers develop. Stay in the present moment and become aware of your automatic reactions. In this way, you can acknowledge your feelings and connect with your values to bring about effective behaviour.

7. Clarify what will be the likely long-term benefits of your new behaviour.

Use the knowledge of your new behaviour to ask yourself how it will benefit your life, how will it affect your health, personal time, relationships and vitality. By having this knowledge you will be able to use it to motivate yourself during difficult times.

8. Be realistic with yourself.

No-one completely eliminates their bad habits. If you fall back into a bad habit, don't be too harsh on yourself. Accept what has happened, be kind to yourself and reconnect with what is important to you - and then start again. The reality is that most of us will make mistakes, particularly in times of stress, as we head towards self improvement.

Psychologist and Chelsea Psychology receptionist, Karen Robson adapted parts of this article from work by Dr Russell Harris, who wrote The Happiness Trap.