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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mindfulness - Getting rid of bad habits

Schnappischnap, Flickr

Bad habits. We form them, we maintain them, we curse them. They make our life miserable yet we fail at getting rid of them.

Very few of us could claim to have complete control over what they put in their mouth or what they do with their time, energy and money. Outside, stronger-than-us forces seem to be at play. This is not without consequences for our health, well-being and overall enjoyment of life.

There is a whole market based on helping people get rid of their bad habits. Or, more aptly put, there is a whole market based on making money out of people's dissatisfaction with their bad habits. Most of us are desperately looking for a way to get our life back on track, and most of us are willing to open our wallet in the process, whether we purchase goods or services that offer the promise of a better life. Nutritional supplements, kitchen equipment, storage systems, various accessories, training equipment, programs... they seem to hold the way to our individual holy grail, so we succumb and, over a lifetime, pour hundreds or thousands of dollars into them. Look around yourself and at your credit card statement... most likely you will see things that you purchased in the hope of a better life. Has it worked? Have you lost the weight? Have you reached your goal, whatever it is?

There is also a whole market based on making money out of creating and maintaining bad habits - ask any cigarette or junk food manufacturer, or any casino or shopping mall owner. 

But if dishing out money isn't the solution to getting rid of bad habits, what is? To find an answer to that, we must first identify our most common mistake.

When tackling our bad habits, we tend to focus on the future: in the future I will get rid of this habit. Beginning tomorrow, or January first, or when I turn forty, I will (fill in the blank):

  • eat healthy
  • exercise daily
  • stop smoking
  • stop drinking
  • consume less caffeine
  • go to bed earlier
  • only buy what I need
  • save money/get out of debt
  • get rid of a tic (e.g. biting nails)
  • control my temper
  • invest in good relationships
  • get organized 
  • stop procrastinating
  • get started on that book I want to write
  • meditate daily
  • ditch video games
  • spend less time on social media

After trying to implement change, and seeing that it failed, as it unfortunately most often does, we move to the next step: we try again. It usually fails again. A quick look at the statistics for smoking cessation or weight loss and maintenance will illustrate that clearly. 

Trying and trying might (if we're lucky) take us closer to our goal, it still doesn't tackle the root of the problem, which is: 

Why did we make that bad habit in the first place? 

There is always a reason. Our bad habits don't fall from the sky randomly - they serve a purpose. As long as the purpose is there, our bad habits will thrive. At best we will replace a bad habit with another. But we cannot hope to free ourselves from bad habits as long as we don't stop and think about their origins.

Before we even look at HOW we can change our life, we need to ask ourselves WHY we are not living the life we want to live, WHY we are not reaching our goals, WHY we keep self-sabotaging.

Before we look at the future, we must first determine what, in our past, contributed to the formation of the bad habit, and what, in our present, helps crystallize it, day after day:

What happened in my past that led me to adopt this habit? 

What happens on a daily basis right before I engage in the behavior?

Mindfulness this Week

When I find myself engaging (or about to engage) in a habit I am trying to get rid of, I will ask myself what preceded it:

What happened right before I engaged in the bad habit? What was going on? How was I feeling?

Is this a common pattern for me?

What, in my past, might be the source of this pattern?

Tell us what you come up with.

Be part of the process: 

Submit your comments below

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  1. Things to think about...thanks for that.

  2. as happens so often we are in the same place today.
    I rock the WHY for fitness.
    I dont rock the WAIT WHAT IS MY WHY?! for other facets of my life.

    1. Fitness might require a post in itself! WHY do I not feel like working out would be a great question to ask oneself. (And then work out anyway, haha) Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Yes, habits can be pretty entrenched. That's the bad and good news all in one :-)

    Maybe bad habits are similar to psychological defense mechanisms that were useful when we were kids but not so much as adults.

    Good luck with changing yours!

    1. I do believe that bad habits are a defense mechanism in many cases. Good luck with changing yours too! :-)

  4. These are great questions! I am not sure about how people use their childhood to reflect their actions or behaviors as adults. I am not saying that it does not happen because I personally know people who's childhood affects their life daily. I am not saying that mine don't but I really need to focus on this question and see what I come up with. Do you mind if I share and answer the questions on my blog? I always put the source I got it from.

    1. One example would be children who learned to relate to food as a reward or consolation or celebration, and now use food as such in their adult life. Yes, go ahead and post an excerpt, as long as you provide a clear link back to my blog. Thanks for commenting!

  5. We become so attached to our bad habits too, don't we? Mine is mindlessly snacking when I'm feeling stressed or emotional. Now, that I try to live more mindfully, I am able to tune into how I'm feeling and realize why I'm wanting to just shovel food into my mouth. So, those tips of asking yourself questions when you're about to engage in a bad habit definitely work! Great post!

    1. I like the term "shovel" to illustrate the way we eat our emotions!

  6. I was thinking about habits today. I took my car to get new brakes and had to drive the mechanic's car to yoga. It was crazy, but I was really out of sorts driving a car I wasn't used to. In fact, it bothered me a lot! I don't want to be one of those wacky old people who can't adjust to change!

    1. Interesting example! Getting out of our comfort zone regularly probably is good for the brain and the body. Thanks for commenting!

  7. The 'why?' and the 'what leads up to it?' are great questions, and I will ponder! I suspect that not wanting to stay with an uncomfortable feeling is behind some at least. Thank-you for a very thought-provoking post and for visiting me recently! Delighted to find you :).

    1. Getting rid of an uncomfortable feeling definitely is a cause. Thanks for commenting!