How to swap out bad habits for active ones

Forming new habits, particularly as it pertains to physical activity, can lead you down the path of lasting behaviour change. But what to do about those not-so-great habits you’re currently trying to kick?

You likely know someone in your life who has tried to stop smoking and failed time and time again. Perhaps they tried to quit cold turkey or didn’t have the proper support systems in play. When, and if they did finally succeed, it’s very likely that they diverted their attention with an alternate “crutch” like chewing gum or replacing with an extra cup of coffee. This is because focusing on creating new habits, rather than relying on willpower alone, will take you further when it comes to behaviour change.

Fortunately, we can use this to our advantage. By taking your bad habits – smoking, biting our nails, Netflix binging, taking the escalator just one flight – and replacing with something beneficial to our well-being (pssst… physical activity) you can drastically change your life for the better.


Physical activity is the single best thing you can do for yourself each day. It can positively affect each and every area of your life: physically, mentally and socially. With a myriad of benefits, it’s no surprise that it’s the perfect habit to swap in for the not-so-savoury behaviour you’re trying to kick. Here are five ways to help you make the trade successfully:

  1. Timing is everythingJust like how completing a task at the same time each day can enhance the potency of new habit creation, it can also be leveraged in your swap. Which activity at what time of day is your Achilles heel? If it’s professional couch surfing at 6:30pm after work, try to find a new physical activity to fill this time slot. Maybe it’s taking your pooch for a walk outside or putting a yoga program on to find zen in your living room.
  2. Enjoy it If your chosen physical activity is feeling torturous, you probably haven’t picked the right activity for you. Why not start with a simple walk outside with a friend or family member?
  3. K.I.S.S. principle Keep it simple, stupid! You’re not stupid, but it helps to remember to be realistic about your goals.  Avoid swapping your bad habit with a physical activity routine that won’t easily be maintained. If you don’t exercise regularly, an evening boot camp might not be in the cards. One study found that automaticity (making an activity second-nature) was strengthened when it involved simple activities or actions. Maybe stretching on the spot every day for 7 days is where you’ll start.
  4. Focus on the feeling In order for you to successfully kick-start a new habit in place of the old one, you’ll need to establish a positive feedback loop. When you complete the new physical activity habit, tune in to how you feel during and after. Feeling energized? Did you have fun? Do you feel more connected to your family members? Noting these positive changes will motivate you to complete the new habit again and again.
  5. Be kind to yourself You’re not going to succeed 100% of the time. You will, on occasion, fall back into your old routine, but don’t focus on the set-backs. Swapping old habits with new healthy ones, can take time, perseverance and patience. Think of it more as a journey than a destination.

Over time, think about other unhelpful habits you might be able to make healthy swaps for. Then, add more as you master others.

Is there an opportunity on your commute to park farther away from your place of work each morning? Are you mindlessly taking the escalator at the subway station when there’s a stairwell nearby? Making movement automatic will give you one less thing to think about – a gift we know you could use.