What Does Old Habits Die Hard Mean?

Old Habit Die Hard Meaning

Definition: The longer you do something, the more ingrained it becomes, and the harder it is to change.

Origin of Old Habits Die Hard

One good example of this idiom in action is trying to quit smoking. If a person smokes only one cigarette, it is easy to never smoke again. However, if someone has been smoking for many years, it is much harder to break that habit.

The exact origin of this expression is unclear. Some sources credit Jeremy Belknap with saying this first, although there seems to be no evidence supporting this.

The first digital record of this in writing appears near the end of the 1800’. This seems to suggest that Jeremy Belknap was not the originator of the expression, since he died in the 1700s.

Examples of Old Habits Die Hard

bad habits die hard meaning In the example below, a husband and a wife are discussing Halloween candy.

Kip: This Halloween candy is delicious! I can’t stop eating it!

Caroline: Kip, what are you doing? You promised me you wouldn’t eat any of the candy this year. The doctor forbade it!

Kip: I’m so sorry! I totally forgot about that. I’m so used to eating candy every Halloween that I didn’t remember this year I wasn’t supposed to. Old habits die hard.

old habits die slow In this second example, two lawyers are carpooling to court.

Jessica: Hey, be careful! You can’t turn right here. It’s a one-way street.

George: Whoops! I forgot that the city changed that street. I’m so used to turning right here. They changed it last week and I still haven’t gotten used to it.

Jessica: I know. Me neither. I only remembered because I turned the wrong way down that road yesterday. Old habits die hard.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about basketball players.

  • Old habits die hard. It’s simply not ingrained in Westbrook, Anthony or George to find the open man, because all three want to be that man, with long histories in that role. –San Francisco Chronicle

This excerpt is from an article about the musician Herbie Hancock.

  • This interview took place by phone at 1am LA time, with Hancock about to embark on a European tour. Old habits die hard, he explained: “I’m really a night person.” –The Guardian


The saying old habits die hard means that once you become accustomed to something it is hard to break out of it.