Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Happiness and success

 

AshtrayGIVE BAD HABITS A BREAK

How many bad habits did your last New Year’s Resolutions involve?

Smoking?
Nail biting?
Overeating?
Drinking too much?

Are you serious about something about them for good?

Why not decide its time to chuck those bad habits and introduce a new, more "blingy" you in 2008.
“Hah – easy for you!” – I hear you say. “Not easy – too darned hard – tried too many times – never worked”.

I am not going to promise you any easy fix. There will be no "Just put on this subliminal disc and give up smoking while you sleep" stuff. This will involve sustained effort. Most behavioural experts will tell you it takes 28 days to reverse a bad, unhealthy, or irritating-to-others habit.

Think of it as a change in lifestyle – like a weight loss program. You know if it’s taken you two years to put on ten kilos you’re not going to take it off in a week, unless it involves some pretty radical surgery (perhaps not to be recommended). We know we have to knuckle down to a sensible diet and exercise to achieve weight loss. So why shouldn’t we expect to put the same effort and commitment into other habits we want to get rid of.

All bad habits have the same basic things in common, whether it’s giving up junk food or smoking.

So let’s have a look at habits in general.

First, what do they have in common?

  • They’re all either compulsive or addictive - that is we feel compelled to do them or they involve a substance that is either psychically or psychologically addictive
  • We do them without thinking – it’s not that we’re unconsciously doing them, it’s just that we’re so used to doing them we do them before we realize it – they’re automatic and we’re often unaware we’re doing them.
  • They’re not all bad. We have many good habits that are just as compulsive, addictive or automatic – so let’s give ourselves a pat on the back for all the good habits we perform every day – like oral hygiene.

Second, how do we get rid of the bad ones?
You might want to print these points out on a card or wall poster that will help you to stay conscious of them.

  • Identify the problem. Is it smoking, nail biting, etc? (don’t try to give all your bad habits up at once, too hard.
  • Having identified the problem, identify the triggers that tend to make you do this particular thing. For example is it when you’re tired or bored? Is it when you’re stressed (this is almost always the case).
  • Analyse the consequences of doing this particular thing, or behaviour, or thought pattern. What effect does it have on your life, your health, your emotions, your degree of happiness, your relationships etc?
  • Think hard now – what is going on inside you when you perpetuate this particular habit? What are you thinking to yourself? For example “I’m going to go crazy. I just have to go outside and have a cigarette”, or “Oh look – I’m biting my nails again – boy am I hopeless – I’ll never get over this”.
  • Write down your goals for a habit-free lifestyle, e.g. 1. I am going to stop biting my nails within 28 days. 2. I am going to keep my nails neat, tidy and looking great starting today, I’m not going to wait – and so on.
  • Learn ways to relieve stress and tension, an essential part of perpetuating any habit. Write down what you already know about relaxing and coping with stressful moments and write down goals for learning new ones.
  • Learn other alternatives – Psychobabble term – ‘Stimulus Substitution’. In other words, substituting something appropriate for something inappropriate. For example:
  • Substitute boiled lollies or ‘Cuip-a-chups’ for chocolate
  • Substitute clapping your hands sharply for nail biting or Tourette’s tics
  • Substitute sitting on your hands every time you get the urge to nail-bite
  • Substitute a glass of water for a cigarette (sip nice and slowly – concentrate)
  • Substitute a little ‘snap’ with a rubber band on your wrist (don’t hurt yourself)
  • Delay gratification. In other words tell yourself “If I was going to (whatever your bad habit is), I would have/Do it in 15 minutes or half an hour. By that time you’ll likely have forgotten about it.
  • Get help! Join a group, get counselling, call a helpline, ask family and friends for support (unless you’re giving up an addiction – people can be stupid about this – “Oh just have one cigarette – or one cream bun – it won’t hurt”. Like hell it will!) Just say “I don’t feel like it today”.
  • Avoid relapse by constant reinforcement – don’t give up!

Persist – persist – persist. Then persist some more. Have patience with yourself and be positive.

You can find lots of information on specific bad habits on the web or get counselling to help you deal with them.

With help and the power of will you can do it – I know you can.

Good Luck!

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