How to Help Someone Struggling with Bad Habits

What if you see a friend or another loved one struggling with their habits? Receiving the right support can be difficult, as well as giving it. However, there are many ways to lend your support to someone without hurting them or harming your relationship. A strategy in helping your friend or loved one feel supported is by actively listening – try to hear the whole message that is being communicated. Remember to focus on the habit and not the person to avoid upsetting them. It’s important to remember that you are not responsible for another person’s actions – their decision in wanting to make change is completely their choice. 

Things To keep In Mind

It is extremely hard to break bad habits. We’ve all been in that situation before, whether it’s a habit of spending too much time on the phone, constantly nail-biting, or even not drinking enough water. When approaching someone with the intention to help them get rid of unhealthy habits, it’s important to remember how to be empathetic. This includes but is not limited to noticing how you approach them, timing your approach, actively listening, asking questions, focusing on their habits and not their character, brainstorming together, and continuing to encourage and support them.  

Let’s imagine you have a habit of eating lots of sweets after dinner and your friend went up to you and said: “You know how you always eat so much ice cream in the evening? I’m worried you’re going to get fat one day.” Not only does their statement sound inappropriate and rude, but it also focuses on the person with the habit instead of the habit itself. However, we can improve it using the tips that were mentioned before. 

Taking Steps Towards Giving the Right Support

  1. How to approach someone: Instead of immediately telling them that they are doing something unhealthy, try stating how you care about them and are worried about what is happening.  
  1. Timing: Telling your friend not to smoke so much while he is smoking is probably not the best idea. To avoid invoking stress and defensiveness from the person you’re trying to talk to, try bringing up the problem while they’re free and not engaging in the habit.  
  1. Active listening: When we’re listening to someone talk, we tend to drift off and start thinking about what we’re going to respond with or how the person could’ve avoided their situation. Remind yourself to actively listen to the person speaking and focus on what they’re saying.  
  1. Asking questions: Asking questions is a good way to show that your focus is on who you’re talking to and that you’re genuinely curious. Understanding the factors involved in their behaviour can be beneficial towards moving forward. 
  1. Habit over person: By keeping the discussion on the habit itself and not the person, we can avoid being judgemental and upsetting them. Remember to discuss the habit as a specific behaviour so the person won’t assume that you’re accusing them.  
  1. Brainstorming: The person you’ve approached will most likely accept your help at this point but may not know what kind of help they would like. In that case, come up with some ideas together and think about what resources they might need.  
  1. Encouragement: People tend to stop providing support once they see that their loved one has started to improve, but relapses can happen. Continue to check in with them and offer encouragement. Though brief relapses may occur, you can help them prevent a total relapse through continuous support.  

There are Limitations, However…

If your loved one is willing to put in the effort towards changing their habits, that is fantastic. However, there are times when people are just unwilling or uninterested in changing at all. If this happens, don’t blame yourself! You are not responsible for their actions. Remember to take time for yourself if you’re still feeling worried about them and engage in activities that help you relax. 

Most bad habits are reversible and can be replaced with good habits, but what if someone you know is struggling with something more than just a bad habit? Some behaviours are uncontrollable and cause distress and harm. In this case, it’s crucial that whoever is struggling seeks a mental health professional for evaluation.  

Check out these articles for more ways to help your loved ones: 

AllinaHealth – Eight ways you can help someone break a bad habit 
Medium – 5 Things Empathetic People Don’t Do 
RUSH – Helping Others Break Bad Habits 

Author: Debi Jin
Editor: Cathy Xie
Researcher: Debi Jin