Bad Habits: Moving Past Them

I take a number of classes to help me deal with my issues. In class today they were talking about habits, both good and bad. In it, we talked about a number of things. Here are my thoughts.

People build habits for a number of reasons. Some habits help you to remember things…like always putting your keys in the same place. Some habits get you through a process, like getting ready for school or work. These are good habits and help get you lead a successful, healthy life.

Other habits may not be so healthy (mentally or physically). These are the habits that lead to overeating, negative reactions, hurt feelings and more.

They key here is that habits produce an outcome…good and bad. They get you to work on time or make sure you brushed your teeth. Some habits produce outcomes that aren’t so good. They get you to eat unhealthy foods or expose behaviours you’d rather not expose.

For this discussion I’m going to define two terms. For me, a habit is broken down into two elements. The trigger is an event that causes you to react. It could be a word, a smell, a feeling, a place, anything that you react to. The behaviour is what you do after the trigger. Again, this could be almost anything. For example, if someone says “knock, knock” you respond with “who’s there”. This is a habit we learned through repetition.

So, these “bad habits”, why do we maintain them and why are they so hard to deal with? How can we build better behaviours to replace them?

For the “why” part of this question, perhaps, some part of us gets a good outcome from it. The behaviour might provide us with some comfort, protect us from a negative situation, or make us feel better. These sound good, but what if that comfort comes from eating excessively, or keeps us from interacting with others, or is why we said something derogatory to a friend for no reason.

These behaviours become automatic, so automatic that we may not notice them coming into play until it’s too late. So automatic they become part of who we are. And the cycle continues…you keep doing it because this how you’ve always done it. The real danger is down the road, when you don’t remember the behaviour is wrong. It becomes part of your life. There is almost always a feeling of guilt around these behaviours.

Repetition is the key here. You created this behaviour out of repetition. It may not even be something you created, you may have learned the behaviour from your parents or friends. They did it, so you do it.

If repetition is what created this behaviour, maybe breaking the repetition it a path towards change. For example, you notice yourself getting triggered, or maybe you’re already in the behaviour. The key is that you notice it, in that moment you can make a change. You can hold your tongue, or not order the cookies with your lunch. It doesn’t take much, just a few times will start to disrupt the cycle.

Don’t get me wrong, habits can be a challenge to change…or to create. Don’t make yourself wrong or bad if you have trouble dealing with them. Even if all you do is notice what’s going on, you are a step closer to changing the behaviour. Next time you may notice it earlier in the cycle, next time even earlier, until you can stop yourself in the moment. Maybe you can create a plan before going into the situation that gives a better outcome.

You may not be able to remove all habits easily. Sometimes a replacement is the answer. Choosing a healthy snack instead of an unhealthy snack, for example. One of the people in my class was talking about reducing the amount of coffee she buys at the coffee house. We did some math, at $5 per day, every day, that is $1,825 per year. Now, every day she skips the expensive coffee she puts $5 into her vacation fund with the goal of going on a Caribbean vacation.

For me, I consider myself on a journey, I can only take a certain amount of stuff with me. When I detect a behaviour I want to change, I tell myself this behaviour is not part of my journey. I can leave this behind and head forward with a little bit less weight. Sometimes I’ll create a replacement behaviour that supports my journey.

Here is a great example of that. I used to crawl inside myself and hide. Now I write on my blog. This helps me to think through the situation, create a plan, and share my struggles with others.

Has this solved my all my problems? No. This is a tool I can carry on my journey to keep the trip manageable.

How do you deal with habits you’d like to change? What are your thoughts on this topic? Respond in the comments…

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