In my last post I talked about understanding habits; knowing why you do some of the things that you do. Understanding habits is very important because ultimately habits shape our lives and are a major determinant to the quality of lives that we lead. I highlighted the following as first steps to changing any bad habit you have. You must understand the current habit loop by 1. Consciously identifying the cue or habit trigger, 2. Identify the craving you sought to satisfy when you engaged in the habit routine, 3. Identify the reward that you get from the routine which causes your brain to reinforce the habit script.
It is important to know that habits can’t be destroyed, but they can be replaced. Trying to stop a bad habit in itself is not an effective method of dealing with the habit. When you identify and understand the habit loop you’re engaged in, you need to replace the routine with something beneficial to you and others around you.
If you have been diligent in following the three steps discussed in the last post about understanding your habit and documenting them, you should have a much clearer picture of what goes on. This will enable you develop the appropriate strategy to overcome the bad habit with a much better one.
The first step in replacing your bad habits is to make a conscious decision to change it. There is so much power in making a deliberate decision to change. This power is further fueled by the belief that you are capable of making the change. A decision without corresponding belief that leads to action will ultimately fail. Write it down as clearly as you can your decision to make a change and sign your name to it. This will serve as a reminder to you that you are in control of your own life and actions and that you are not subject to your habits.
This attribute of making a conscious decision is one that makes humans unique. We have the power of choice. Even after being conditioned a certain way, if we do come to a state of consciousness and awareness we can make a decision to act differently than our impulses suggest for us to act.
Now that you have made the decision and you are armed with good information you can begin to take action. What may immediately come to mind is for you to eliminate the cues or triggers that set off the former habit. The problem with this is that it is not realistic to do. The fact is that life happens, and it is in the midst of living that we receive the impulses that cue us into the habit loop. But because you know what these triggers are and you are conscious of them when you notice a cue, rather than getting into auto-mode, you can now choose a different routine.
The way to pick the substitute routine is by looking at what craving you sought to satisfy by the routine and pick a different routine that will give you a similar satisfaction. For example you can choose to go on a long walk if you need to be distracted from something, a workout can provide you with stimulation and ultimately relax you, replacing unhealthy food for a snacking habit etc. If you bite your nails or crack your knuckles, sitting on your hands and carefully breathing and counting can be a replacement.
In replacing habits what I have found to be extremely effective is to keep my eyes focused on a promise from the Bible that address the condition. So rather than leave myself to mere will power and belief, I put my belief in what a verse of Scripture says about the situation. For a habit of worrying about what people think about me, I have identified Scriptures on being accepted and loved by God. So when the trigger is activated, I focus on the Scripture and consciously engage in a routine of self talk based on the memorized Bible verse.
The final thing is to reward yourself with the new routine. A reward should not be elaborate but simple and harmless enough that you can do it as often times as possible without adverse effects. An example is to reward yourself with $1 towards a special meal at the end of the month for each time you successfully substituted the old routine with the new. In the same vein, you should ding yourself for each time you engaged in the old routine. Understand that I’m not referring to pulling yourself down and trashing yourself. The punishment should be small. The reward should outweigh the punishment so that you are not focused on what you’re going to loose, but rather on what you have to gain.
Behavioral conditioning is a long process, and breaking a habit loop takes time. We all want things to change overnight, but the habit was not learned overnight, therefore, be realistic in your expectations. As long as you’re committed to changing the bad habit and are still improving, don’t pay too much attention to how long the process is taking. You’ll get there eventually.