“I wish I could change, but I no matter how hard I try, I can’t.”
“But I just can’t help it…”
“Everyone does it…”
“It may be wrong, but you’d do the same thing if you were in my situation.”
We are all creatures of habit. Your habits affect who you are. We first make our habits, and then our habits make–or break–us. Change your habits, and you change your life. Habit is like a cable. We weave a strand of it every day, until it is extremely difficult to break. In the end, our habits become either the best of servants … or the worst of masters.
A habit is defined as an involuntary pattern of behavior or practice, usually acquired by frequent repetition. Not all habits are wrong or undesirable. In fact, most habits are good. We dress in the morning, tie our shoes, and write our names, not out of focused concentration, but through the ease of habit. Some habits, however, are annoying and undesirable–even downright self-destructive–ranging from nervous mannerisms and certain speech aberrations to smoking and overeating. When a habit is negative, it hinders or harms and when a habit is positive, it fosters health, self-esteem, and interpersonal relationships.
You may be wondering why we develop habits and whether habits are important or not? Habits help us establish order and allow us to do things automatically, with little thought. This in turn, allows us to focus on other areas of our lives that demand our immediate attention. Originally, our habits are developed because they meet a perceived need. When they no longer meet a need, they continue on automatic and may be reinforced by people around you. A few other reasons are innate human defiance, need for social acceptance [smoking, drinking], inability to truly understand the nature of risk, individualistic view of the world and the ability to rationalize unhealthy habits and so on.
If you have an undesirable habit you’d like to break, don’t despair. You can put an end to your most troublesome habits, including anxiety, negative thinking, compulsive eating, constant throat-clearing, knuckle-cracking, fingernail-biting, nervous tics, smoking, and even habitual physical or spiritual laziness, in much less time than you ever imagined–sometimes in a matter of days–and in most cases you can do it on your own.
There are innumerable books, tapes, counselors, and psychologists all ready to give you advice … and take your money. However, with a well-thought-out plan and a little persistence, you can break your own bad habits just as surely as you formed them. The hardest part of overcoming a bad habit is ‘starting.’
Research has identified six stages that people go through in trying to change habits. The stages are:
Precontemplation – resisting change
People are not thinking seriously about changing and are not interested in any kind of help. People in this stage tend to defend their current bad habit(s) and do not feel it is a problem. They may be defensive in the face of other peopleís efforts to pressure them to quit.
Contemplation – change on the horizon
People are more aware of the personal consequences of their bad habit and they spend time thinking about their problem. Although they are able to consider the possibility of changing, they tend to be ambivalent about it. In this stage, people are on a weighing the pros and cons of quitting or modifying their behavior. Although they think about the negative aspects of their bad habit and the positives associated with giving it up (or reducing), they may doubt that the long-term benefits associated with quitting will outweigh the short-term costs.
Preparation – getting ready
People have made a commitment to make a change. Their motivation for changing is reflected by statements such as: I’ve got to do something about this; this is serious. Something has to change. What can I do? people are now taking small steps toward cessation. They are trying to gather information (sometimes by reading things like this) about what they will need to do to change their behavior.
Action – time to move
People believe they have the ability to change their behavior and are actively involved in taking steps to change their bad behavior by using a variety of different techniques. This is the shortest of all the stages. The amount of time people spend in action varies. It generally lasts about 6 months, but it can literally be as short as one hour! This is a stage when people most depend on their own willpower. They are making overt efforts to quit or change the behavior and are at greatest risk for relapse.
Maintenance – staying there
People in this stage tend to remind themselves of how much progress they have made. People in maintenance constantly reformulate the rules of their lives and are acquiring new skills to deal with life and avoid relapse. They are able to anticipate the situations in which a relapse could occur and prepare coping strategies in advance. Maintenance involves being able to successfully avoid any temptations to return to the bad habit. The goal of the maintenance stage is to maintain the new status quo.
Recycling – learning from relapse
Along the way to permanent cessation or stable reduction of a bad habit, most people experience relapse. In fact, it is much more common to have at least one relapse than not. Relapse is often accompanied by feelings of discouragement and seeing oneself as a failure. While relapse can be discouraging, the majority of people who successfully quit do not follow a straight path to a life time free of self-destructive bad habits. In fact, relapses can be important opportunities for learning and becoming stronger. People who have relapsed may need to learn to anticipate high-risk situations (such as being with their family) more effectively, control environmental cues that tempt them to engage in their bad habits (such as being around drinking buddies), and learn how to handle unexpected episodes of stress without returning to the bad habit. This gives them a stronger sense of self control and the ability to get back on track.
Certain pointers for starters
- Changing habits isn’t a matter of willpower, but patience and strategy. Don’t expect to overhaul your diet, exercise or thinking patterns in a day.
- Tackle one habit at a time.
- Get some leverage on yourself. Tell a friend your plan so you will be more likely to commit to the change.
Most big changes aren’t going to happen the first time. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you fail the first time; just tweak your approach and go again.
- Know the Pain. Feel what will happen to you if you don’t make a change. Use your imagination to enhance the image of your results should you do nothing.
- Stay Consistent. Try to keep as many aspects of your habit in control when conditioning to make the associations stronger. Do things at the same time and in the same pattern to ensure your results stick.
- Remind Yourself. Put reminders of your habit around you. Put up Post-It notes, affirmations or whatever you need to stay consistent
- Motivate Yourself. Get the motivation when things get tough.
- Don’t Strive for Perfection. Focus on the habits that are important and minimize those that aren’t.
|Smoking||Gum or Consult doctor.|
|Gossiping||Take up new hobby to keep your mind off other people’s business.|
|Spitting||Swallow, don’t spit. Chew gum instead of tobacco.|
|Nail biting||Paint nails with foul-tasting polish. Wear gloves.|
|Procrastinating||Use daily calendar and to-do list to monitor tasks.Force yourself to carry out plan once you make it.|
|Provide personal incentives for completing things.|
|Work on confidence building.|
|Bragging||Realize the only person you need to impress is yourself.Realize people will like you for being genuine|
Some bad habits can actually turn out to be helpful. They may cause trouble most of the time. Yet, there are those instances when they seem to fit the situation perfectly. Since most people have at least some bad habits, it is probably good that they have a helpful side.
Habits, good or bad, make you who you are. The key is controlling them. If you know how to change your habits, then even a small effort can create big changes.