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Change Your Life: Break That Bad Habit
You didn't really think about it beforehand. Instead, you were feeling a certain way, and the behavior kicked in. It was only afterwards, when the disgust and self recrimination surfaced that you stopped to reflect and ask yourself if this "bad habit" is the result of too much stress, never having enough time, a need for a quick way to relax and kick back, a needed treat after an especially hard day or week- or perhaps a way to deal with that uncomfortable anticipation that always comes before certain social, business or family events. Whatever the reason, you now feel embarrassment and regret and make yourself a quiet vow to break this habit- then you go along just fine until the next time you find yourself in one of those moods…
You know you have acquired a bad habit when practicing it leads to emotional and physical discomfort and/or harm- and has a negative impact on your self-esteem, health, productivity, work life, and/or family and other relationships. Sometimes this behavior is premeditated, much of the time it is not. You know you want and need to utilize more effective ways of coping and build healthy habits instead, but can never find the time and fear you lack the willpower to make the necessary changes.
Nothing occurs in a vacuum- and this is certainly true about behavior. We all carry innate predispositions, and are imprinted by the attitudes and behavior of our role models and past experiences- all of which shape who we are, what we believe, and how we choose to deal with the challenges and stressors in our lives and the feelings that accompany them. Each time we use a behavior, we are reinforcing it- and moving towards a more unconscious and entrenched response that helps us to deny or create reality, until what we are doing can be rationalized- at least for a time. So, what can we do to help us let go and detach from that behavior and replace it with positive and well thought out ways of coping?
Here is a 4 step "break that habit" action plan you can try:
The first step is to begin identifying the where, when and who behind your habit. Note specific problem times of the day/week, social and work situations that leave you longing for your "fix"- or any particular people or events that trigger a negative response. Make a note of both the frequency of the problem behavior surfacing and what you were feeling just before, during and after it happened. Keep a notebook handy and make quick notes throughout your day. It's surprising how faulty memory can be.
The second step is to plan for the next time by coming up with (in advance) some productive and positive ways that you can respond when those vulnerable moments occur. Work through possible scenarios in your mind and ask yourself (for each one), what could I choose to do differently before during or afterwards. Be creative here and come up with resources to help you. Consider things like talking to someone who is supportive, taking a break to walk, spending a few moments in meditation- or anything that offers some comfort and an opportunity to reflect and redirect you, away from your fix. By planning in advance, you will be able to use your thinking side when it is needed, which will help you to maintain a clearer and more detached perspective when the negative stressor presents.
The third step is to consider simple lifestyle changes to help you build your internal resources and develop a more positive outlook and view of yourself. These changes can range from very simple things like getting up 10 minutes earlier each day and reflecting on your day, listing at least one or two things you are grateful for- to more complex ones like setting aside time and other resources to pursue a dream or long held personal goal.
The fourth step is to identify what is missing from your life and/or what you would like to make better. Bad habits usually derive from an avoidance of emotional discomfort or pain, such as loss, loneliness or other sadness- and are used to self medicate, as they mask or dull one's emotions. They are easier to break for good when your life is working better for you- and you are able to meet some of your important needs. Therefore, identifying goals and focusing on their achievement is a great bad habit buster and way to build new good ones.
Breaking bad habits is not a simple, one step process. However, if you work to identify your triggers, develop new and better coping mechanisms, begin to incorporate some simple but effective lifestyle changes and identify the areas of your life that are not working for you, and set realistic goals to achieve these- you will break those bad habits and learn to behave in ways you love.
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
© Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.
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