In dealing with my coaching clients, I often get asked about how to break bad habits. Habits are insidious things. They exist and function without any conscious thought on our parts. They will continue for as long as we allow them – or for as long as we ignore them. If you want to change a habit, it takes effort. You have to take it out of the realm of the unconscious and bring it into your conscious mind before you can even begin to change anything.
As an example, we’re going to use the idea of telling ourselves a story – something that we make up in our heads and don’t know if it is true or not. Stories are often destructive things because we often assume the worst of people and situations. So many people work hard to stop themselves from telling stories.
Notice the Bad Habit
The first step to breaking a bad habit is to notice when you do it. We often don’t give ourselves enough credit for this particular aspect. It’s easy to overlook this step as being valuable since it’s the time in which we realize that a change is needed. But this step is critical. If we never notice there is a problem, then we can never hope to overcome it. So if you wanted to stop telling yourself stories, you would spend the next few days noticing when you are telling yourself a story. You’d start to recognize the situations in which you are most likely to make up a story and notice what form your stories usually take.
Break the Pattern
Once you learn to recognize the pattern, you are in a position to shift it. This requires breaking the pattern/habit that you’ve been participating in. It means changing the path that your brain takes. So in our example, whatever the story was that you were creating for yourself, you’d break the pattern by telling yourself “This is only a story. I don’t know the actual truth. By telling myself this story, I am being self-abusive. I refuse to continue telling myself this story.”
Put a New Pattern In Place
Once you have cancelled out the old story, it’s time to replace your habit with a new, more healthy one. Nature abhors a vacuum, so it’s critical to create a substitute habit for the one you are removing. Otherwise, you run the risk of the old habit reasserting itself. Even if what you replace it with is just a placeholder, it’s still better than nothing. So in our example, you would consider whether there is even a need for you to have a story for this situation. It might be OK for you to not know the reasoning that someone had for acting the way they did. In this case, you’d put a placeholder in your habit that said “I can’t possibly know what this person was thinking, so I’m not going to make something up”. Or perhaps you could put a new habit in place by asking the other person what their reasoning was. Or, if you can’t and you feel you really need a story, see what you can do to create one that makes you feel better rather than worse.
It Takes Consistent Effort
Keep in mind that new patterns require a little effort. It may take you a while to get used to this process. It will also require discipline if you’re dealing with an issue that is long ingrained. But eventually, you will find that changing your habit can be a rewarding experience.
If you’d like to work on a habit that you just can’t seem to break, schedule a coaching session with me today.