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Breaking Bad Habits

A lot of habits don’t start off “bad”. I mean, they must have served you in some way, right? At some point, you developed this habit because you needed it. You began this behavior, or this way of thin...

A lot of habits don’t start off “bad”. I mean, they must have served you in some way, right? At some point, you developed this habit because you needed it. You began this behavior, or this way of thinking or doing things for a reason. But, now you know it’s worn out it’s welcome and its time to give it up. So, how best to kick that habit to the curb once and for all?

It all begins with awareness. Most habits are no longer conscious choices. You may not even be aware of when or why you do it. You do it because it’s what you did before and it’s what you know. “We are creatures of habit,” they say and when we repeat actions over and over we often become stuck in a pattern. Wendy Wood, Duke professor of psychology and neuroscience conducted studies demonstrating that people repeat well-practiced actions regardless of whether they intend to do so. She finds that people with a habit to purchase fast food at a particular place tend to keep doing so, even if their intentions change and they no longer wish to do it. So, just by saying you’re going to eat better, if you don’t know why you’re eating junk in the first place, you will find yourself right back in line for a Big Mac.

Habits are often associated with triggers. Be aware of when you give in to your habit. Is it in the same place everyday, with the same people at the same time? Wood explains “Many of our repeated behaviors are cued by everyday environments, even though people think they’re making choices all the time,” she says. “Most people don’t think that the reason they eat fast food at lunch or snack from the vending machine in late afternoon is because these actions are cued by their daily routines, the sight and smell of the food or the location they’re in. They think they’re doing it because they intended to eat then or because they like the food.” I realized that every time I go to the bookstore I get coffee. It doesn’t matter if it’s morning, day, night or after I just had a coffee. It’s what I did. It’s part of the atmosphere for me, just part of the activity. If you say “bookstore” to me, my mind says “latte”. So, be aware. When you are putting that quarter in the vending machine, are you really hungry? Or are you just getting that Snickers because it’s 4:00?

You need to get to the root of why this habit began. It’s human nature to seek pleasure over pain. That’s who we are. Chances are you picked up this habit because it brought you pleasure at some point. It has turned bad because the pain now outweighs the pleasure right? The knowledge that it is hurting you or no longer good for you now invalidates what was positive. So, what were you getting out of it? What kind of pleasure did it bring you?

It’s an instinct to feel good. We all want to gain pleasure and avoid pain. It’s a lot to ask of your self to quit something cold turkey. So, once you’ve established why you were doing it, replace it with another action that would bring the same results. Don’t leave yourself feeling deprived. Get creative with replacements. Eating chocolate is said to release endorphins, which makes you feel terrific right? It can be difficult to stop eating it and turn to carrot sticks. But, a 20-minute cardio session also releases endorphins and can make you feel the same way.

Be clear on why this habit is no longer good for you. I think the most difficult habits to shed are the ones that we may still enjoy but know are bad for us. These can be really tricky. Smoking, eating, drinking too much coffee (that’s mine at the moment) are tough to kick because the immediate pleasure may seem to outweigh the pain. And so, it’s vital to know why you are committed to quitting. Write it down. Iron lung, diabetes, migraines …. Whatever the pain, be clear and honest with your self.

Ok, you’re ready to quit. Three more things I do to make sure the habit doesn’t stand a chance:

-Set realistic goals- don’t set yourself up for failure. They say it takes 30 days to break a habit. It will take 30 days to replace it with a new one. Write it on your calendar. It’s not a long time. You can do anything for 30 days, right?

-Be accountable to someone you trust - Tell a friend about your commitment to breaking this habit. Ask them to remind you in times of weakness. Now, you’ve got nowhere to hide.

-Plan a reward- Give yourself something to look forward to in 30 days. Make it special and don’t give in until you get it! Celebrate that you are consciously making choices to take care of you.

Know that it’s ok if you slip up. Don’t allow negative thoughts to come in and sabotage you. I know that if you don’t succeed at first, you will want to call it a failure, but be aware that those negative thoughts are also a habit. Remind yourself why the habit is no longer serving you and that you are in search of a different result this time. There are no failures, just different results. You can get the result you want. Simply begin again.

William Wordsworth said, “Not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd.” I want to feel like I have control over my habits. I don’t want to be part of an “unreflecting herd”. So now when you say “bookstore”, I will think “books” for the next 30 days. What habit are you going to kick? You can do it. Remember, it’s easier to kick it today than tomorrow. SoFree Reprint Articles, begin!

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I have been a professional artist and artist coach for over 15 years.  Come read more from my collection of self help articles, personal stories and free online coaching for creative personal development.

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