How to Help Someone Change Their Habits

When you want another person to change their habits, you must be able to communicate assertively and show respect and understanding.
How to Help Someone Change Their Habits
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Few situations can be as frustrating as seeing that one of your loved ones is harming themselves due to their bad habits. Furthermore, you feel helpless when you try to voice your concern to them and they either completely ignore you or get offended. However, if you want to help someone to change their habits, you must start with respect and understanding.

Generally, imposition and criticism aren’t well received. After all, nobody likes to feel judged , or that someone else is deciding what they should or shouldn’t do. That’s why it’s important to be assertive when launching your requests or suggestions for change. Here are some tips to make your communication more efficient.

How to help someone change their habits

Love or control?

First of all, you have to ask yourself where your desire for the other person to change their habits comes from. Does it really stem from concern for their well-being, or is it a need for control on your part? Because many times, without realizing it, you maintain expectations about how others should be and you get frustrated when they don’t comply.

However, everyone has the free will to decide how they want to be and what they want to do with their lives. Indeed, there’s no benefit in trying to change someone. On the contrary, you must accept and value them for what they are. In fact, ask yourself if what you want to change is really harming them or not.

On the other hand, it’s perfectly acceptable to want someone with cardiovascular problems   to stop smoking. Although it’s not really okay to push a person into having more of a social life if they don’t want it and they’re introverted by nature.

Man with his back reluctant to change his habits

The right moment

It’s really important to know how to choose the right moment to voice your concerns or your opinion to them. As a matter of fact, it can be extremely useful to wait for them to approach you. If, for example, they’re a rather aggressive or irritable person, at some point they’ll probably have an argument with someone and will feel bad about it. It’s extremely likely that they’ll then ask your advice or at least tell you what happened.

That’s the ideal moment to express your point of view, since they’ve come to you and, therefore, will be more receptive to what you have to say. Nevertheless, if this doesn’t happen, you’ll have to select a suitable moment. Try to address what’s bothering you when you’re alone with them, in a pleasant environment, when they’re in a calm mood. Because in the middle of a storm, your comments may be unwelcome.


It’s extremely important to know how to handle assertive communication when you want to deal with sensitive issues. Your first impulse may be to judge or recriminate them for their bad habits, poor diet, the little exercise they do, or their lack of sensitivity. However, this strategy won’t help you get them to agree to anything.

It may be useful to use the sandwich technique. This consists of including a compliment before and after the message you want to convey. In this way, the person won’t feel attacked. On the contrary, they’ll be able to perceive that you appreciate and value them, and only seek to clarify or improve their situation.

Also, try to focus on what you feel rather than what they’re doing wrong. For example, you might tell them “I’m worried and sad about how little time we’ve spent together lately” rather than “You spend all day working and don’t pay any attention to me”.

Hands together as support to change habits

Propose alternatives for them to change their habits

Many times, the best option to get someone to change their habits is to get involved personally and propose alternatives. For instance, if you want your son to apply himself more to his studies, suggest that you do his homework together every afternoon. Or, if you want a friend to exercise more because it’d be good for their health, invite them to sign up for an activity with you. Finally, if you’d like your partner to be more open with you, suggest having dinner alone one day a week and use the opportunity to chat about how things are going.

Getting another person to change their habits isn’t easy. Nonetheless, if you really feel that they need that change, you can help them with understanding, respect, and mutual communication.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Castanyer, O. (1996). La asertividad. Expresión de una sana autoestima. Bilbao: Descleé de Brouwer.
  • Capafons, J. I., & Sosa, C. D. (2015). RELACIONES DE PAREJA Y HABILIDADES SOCIALES: EL RESPETO INTERPERSONAL. Behavioral Psychology/Psicología Conductual23(1).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.