Project Genesis

Basics of Judaism

Sin and Repentance

Breaking a Bad Habit

Question: How should a person stop a bad habit that is very difficult to stop?

Answer: Thank you for your excellent question. You already have taken the first and most difficult step in beating any bad habit, and that is admitting that you have done something wrong and that you want to fix it.

There is no quick fix for anything, and no guarantee that you will stop forever, whatever it is, but it is always possible to control yourself, even if it is very hard.

The next step you have to do, now that you admit you have a problem and want to fix it, is to believe that you can fix it. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught “if you believe that you can damage something, believe you can fix it”. This is not only a nice saying, it is a reality of how G-d created the world, because He gave us free will to choose between right and wrong, so if we can do wrong, we must be able to do right. So believe that G-d gives you the power to do the right thing and to beat this habit.

The next step is to pray to G-d to give you the power to overcome this habit.

If the habit is a forbidden matter, you should do Teshuvah (undertake the path of return to G-d), by admitting your mistake verbally to G-d (called Vidui), feeling bad about it, and accepting to try to be better. If you hurt other people, you also should  ask their forgiveness.

Now, how to try to be better: start slow. If you cannot always hold back, try to designate certain hours in the day, or even in the week, when you will be careful not to do this bad habit. If you have an hour every day when you are careful, extra careful, it will help you be better all the time.

Another piece of advice is to wear a bracelet or ring to help to remind you not to do this bad habit.

You can also save up some money for some item that you want to buy very much as your reward for being good. Put a little money aside every day or week when you refrain from this bad habit. If you go a few weeks or a month without doing the bad habit, you can buy your reward, but if you fail, you should give the money to Tzedakah (Charity), and start saving up for your reward anew.

Never give up, and never feel depressed if you mess up; there is always a chance to do Teshuvah. The Talmud says that when we do Teshuvah out of fear, we are forgiven to the extent that an intentional sin is viewed as if it was accidental. When we do Teshuvah because we love Hashem, our sins are miraculously transformed to merits, as if we did good deeds! This is because the Teshuvah makes brings us closer to G-d and makes us better than before.

These are all good ideas, but once again, the main approach is to realize that the power to do anything is not yours, but rather G-d’s, and He is the one who gives you strength and power to do valiant deeds.

May G-d bless you to be strong and overcome this bad habit that you are seeking to beat.

Best Wishes,
Rabbi Yitzchak Kolakowski
Richmond, VA

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