Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to stop a habit that is no longer healthy for you or healthy for your bank balance?
Have you ever
- been on a diet, only to put on more weight than you started with?
- tried to cut down or give up on alcohol or other drugs and failed?
- tried to quit smoking and failed? Or given up and started again… and again … and again?
- tried to stop gambling?
- tried to resist to urge to buy another new pair of shoes or outfit that your didn’t need, couldn’t afford and will probably wear once or never wear?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions then don’t worry you are not alone, it is not your fault, but it is your responsibility to find a solution. Most people will have unwanted habits that they are unable to control. The problems arise when these habits have an impact on your health, your relationships and your money, then you have to make a decision to take action. When despite all the negative impacts on you life you are still unable to stop.
The first step to giving up a habit that you no longer want is to understand why it is so difficult to stop. You have thought it all through, you understand the pros and cons of what you are doing and you have come to the conclusions that your habit is causing more harm than is good for you. So far so good, you then decide that your are going to change your habit by cutting down or giving up completely. You pick the day – usually a Monday, not always the best day for giving up a habit, but that is another blog. You are full of enthusiasm as you get our of bed, determined that today is the day. Today is the first day of your new life, and depending on your particular addiction you may last a day, but it is more common that a couple of hours after getting up in the morning you start to feel little arguments popping into your mind.
- I don’t drink that much anyway
- Surely one chocolate biscuit can’t do any harm
- I have a party on Saturday, so maybe it would be better to wait until next Monday
- I have a stressful life, I need something to relax me
- I work hard, this is my only enjoyment
As the day goes on, that little voice will come up with more and more reasons that now is not the right time, that your habit wasn’t that bad, that you have a stressful life and need some treats, that you work hard and deserve some enjoyment in your life.
By the time you have arrived home from work all your good intentions have disappeared like snow melting under the winter sun and you have poured yourself a glass of wine or find yourself raiding the fridge for that one treat that will satisfy.
To be fair to your conscious mind, that part that made the decision to quit, it didn’t stand a chance against your addiction. It will start working on you again, perhaps later that night or the next morning, reminding you of all the reasons you wanted to stop and the next day you will once again start full of enthusiasm, or perhaps having failed you will wait until the next Monday or until after the party, a wedding you are going to, christmas, your birthday ………
To understand why we repeat this pattern over and over and over again, you need to be aware that we have two minds, the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. The conscious mind is the part of you that made the decision to quit, that weighed up all the pros and cons and decided that now is the right time. Unfortunately, the conscious mind is not in charge of your habits, so no amount of determination on its part will have any impact on your habits. It is the unconscious mind that is driving your behaviours and until you understand this you will be relying on willpower to end your habit, and as anyone who has been on the diet merry-go-round can tell you, willpower doesn’t work. There is no power in will power.
Think back to the first time you started your habit, maybe it was the first drink of alcohol at a party and it helped you to relax and enjoy yourself by releasing some nice feel good hormones into the brain. The brain remembers this feeling and associates it with having a drink at a party and having a good time. Maybe you drank every time you went on holiday and the brain registers this connection with alcohol to a good holiday. Maybe when you were stressed, bored or tired you reached for a bar of chocolate as you believed that it helped to relieve these emotions and your brain will then tie the two together and nudge you towards the solutions it thinks you need every time you are bored, tired or stressed. The same connections are made whatever the habit, whether you bought a new outfit when you felt down, you brain now sees buying a new outfit with making you feel better.
It is of course not true, none of our habits do any of the things they promise and usually make us feel worse after, either with the regret of failing to stop, hangovers, weight gain or reduced bank balance.
So, how do we end this cycle of wanting to stop, failing, starting over again, regret, wanting to give up, stopping and round and round we go on the roller-coaster ride, but are never able to step off, the ride never ends. We are trapped forever on the ride and it starts to dominate our life.
The first step to changing your habit is awareness. You have to become aware of why you are doing what you are doing. Most of us do not think when we drink the glass of wine, smoke the cigarette or eat the tub of ice cream, We act out our habit unconsciously in an effort to change how we are feeling. We get home from work feeling tired and stressed, in order to relieve the stress we pour a glass of wine, because that is what our unconscious mind has been taught will relieve stress. We stop work to go outside for a cigarette, because we are bored and want to change how we feel, going outside gives you a chance to get away from your desk. We feel lonely and we reach for the bar of chocolate.
So next time you want to carry out your habit, just stop for a few seconds and ask yourself a simple question –
How am I feeling right now?
At first it may take time for the answer to come up as many of us are not used to asking ourselves how we are feeling, but once you have an answer, ask yourself –
In what way will acting out my habit change how I feel?
And then ask yourself –
How long will these new feelings last?
How will I feel in an hour? The next day?
The first step to giving up your habit is to understand the feeling you are trying to change. Habits are a best guess at what will satisfy us. To get real satisfaction from life you have to look deeper and find a way of living life to the fullest with new hobbies and pastimes that will benefit your mind and body in the long term. Only you can make the decision to give up short term satisfaction for long term health and peace of mind.
Is it time to realise that you can step off the roller-coaster, that the only person keeping you on there is you.