Often a bad habit serves a physical relief, like food or drugs, and sometimes an emotional one. You may, for instance, bite your nails, clench your jaw or remain in a bad relationship just because of the habit of familiarity. Even though we know bad habits waste our time and energy and may even threaten our emotional well-being, physical health or career opportunities, we still do them.
Habits, whether good or bad are in our lives for a reason; otherwise we wouldn’t do them. However, most bad habits are formed to cope with stress, anxiety or boredom. Like medicine, it gives us a sense of temporary pleasure, relief or satisfaction. We know we must stop, but we lack the incentive to do so.
There is no point telling yourself to ‘stop it’ because there is usually a reason for having them. Habits serve emotional needs, like smoking for instance. Instead, we need to replace them. We need to replace one ‘pleasure principle’ for another ‘pleasure principle’. We need to replace the bad habit for a healthier behaviour that serves the same emotional need.
The first step in breaking a habit is, to begin with awareness. Don’t get caught up in guilt-tripping yourself, instead, notice what you are doing and become curious about yourself. Notice yourself lighting up that cigarette and inwardly enquire: ‘I wonder why I need this right now?’. Notice if something stressful just happened that may have triggered an emotional response in your body. Then, begin to imagine what else you could do instead. Perhaps you could practice breathing exercises or a short mind meditation. These healthier activities serve the same emotional need that the cigarette you’ve become familiar with.
Choosing a substitute for your bad habit and exercising the new behaviour takes time. It also takes conscious effort and perseverance for a new action to become an automatic behaviour, so plan for pitfalls. Allow yourself to slip up now and then and forgive yourself and start all over.
Remember, you are only human.
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