Therapy Blog

Habits

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We all hear about “Bad Habits” like smoking etc. What about “Good Habits?” Do those exist? Yes! Exercise, eating healthy, practicing meditation, just to name a few. But since the squeaky wheel gets the grease, we should look into how to move beyond those ‘bad’ habits.

When it comes to habits, not all are bad

The ones that are not healthy need to be replaced with either new healthier habits, or healthier versions of the habit itself. For example, if you are in the habit of exercising for 5 hrs/day, every day of the week, and it is keeping you from being with your family, keeping you in a very unhealthy state because of nutritional deficits or overexertion and dehydration, you can keep the habit of exercising, but just moderate it to be healthy . . . lets say by working out 4 times/week, for no more than 90 minutes.

Other bad habits are truly unhealthy in any form. A great example would be smoking cigarettes. Even if you only smoke one, it is not healthy. You’ll need to replace this bad habit with a different, healthier habit like exercise or chewing gum.

Getting rid of bad habits: 3 steps

An old martial arts teacher of mind summarized this process nicely:

  1. Face it
  2. Erase it
  3. Replace it

Easy, right? Sure, unless it’s a well-established habit or an addiction! But the process is the same. We have heard that it takes 21 days to cultivate a new habit–this is true for easy habits, like brushing your teeth before you go to bed; but for more stubborn habits and/or addictions, be more patient and give it a good 6-8 weeks.

Face the habit

Lets look at each step in a little more depth. First, Face it. This simply means that you need to accept that the habit is there and that you need to change it to get better results from life. This means not rationalizing or justifying it–rather, just accept that because you want to change it, there must be something about it that is just not working for you. So, accept it as-is, resisting the urge to judge yourself as this only slows you down (and self-judgment may be another habit we can look at).

Erase the habit

Once you can simply acknowledge and accept the habit, you are ready to move on to Erasing it. There are a number of ways that this can be done, and I invite you to come up with some ideas of your own. Sometimes, visualization helps: Start by sitting comfortably, like you are going to meditate, or do a relaxation exercise. Imagine the habit as a pile of dirt (or whatever. . . ), then imagine that your deepest self is sending in an army with shovels taking the pile away; as you breathe and visualize, you may think things like “Breathing in power, breathing out [the habit].” Do this a few times per day and even journal your experience.

Another visualization is to picture the habit as a fire that has burned you, a fire that needs to be extinguished. Imagine a large bucket of water above the fire, then using your breath, begin to tip the bucket so that the water puts the fire out. Each exhalation of your breath can be used to tip the bucket further and further until the fire is out.

Finally, and for many, this works quite well, and can be used along with any type of visualization. It actually involves erasing the habit by replacing it with a new habit. While it seems that we are skipping a step here, we are not. We are simply acknowledging our intention of being free of the toxic effects of the bad habit by engaging a new one.

Replace the habit

Smokers will often replace a cigarette with gum, a straw, candy, etc. These give the mouth something to do as the habit is broken and replaced. Breathing is of course always helpful in this process. It is important to replace the bad habit with something though, just quitting can work, but relapse may be easier for some people.

Be patient, it can take a month or so for the new habit to take hold. If you re-engage the bad habit, simply acknowledge what happened, learn from it, then move back to the new habit, knowing that you have learned a little more about yourself in the process.

Get support

Ask friends and family to support you in this process. Pay attention to who you ask though . . . people that try to get you to keep the old bad habit going so that they don’t have to face their own habits/addictions may not be the most helpful; I’m not suggesting dropping the friendship, but just not putting all your eggs in that basket. There are many support groups out there for a wide variety of habits, especially for addictive habits like drugs, alcohol, eating, etc. Use them. If they don’t work well for you, do something else. Come talk with me if you are not sure what to do.

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