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Breaking the Chains of Bad Habits
My clients often come to me looking for help to get rid of old habits. They want to break free from a cycle of repeating the same old self-defeating habits and install more positive ones. For most people, they start off with great enthusiasm, but the spark quickly dies. Their resolve wanes and the bad habits creep back into their life. They become discouraged, stuck, and apathetic toward their goals. What seems like an impossible task, is actually quite simple. Not to say it is easy, but it is simple.The five steps below can be used to break free of any bad habit.
Step #1 Identify the habit
Sometimes the hardest part of changing a bad habit, is realizing you have the problem in the first place. When areas of your life are not working, it can usually be tied back to a faulty habit pattern. We “think” we are making choices for everything we do, but the truth is that the “programming in our head” runs the show. It is more of a reflex, than an actual decision. That is why it is initially difficult to see the problem.To get started, we must become the “noticer”, of our actions, to catch ourselves when the habit starts to play. This is a big step and takes a lot of conscious awareness.
When working with clients, I tell them not to try and change the habit right when you notice it. Just look at it as if you were in third person observing your actions. That’s all that is required to get Step 1 down.
Step #2 Interrupt your patterns
Now that you have identified a habit that you want to change, you must find a way to interrupt it when it starts to play. When you notice the habit starting, simply stop it in its tracks for a moment. Think about it, observe it, question it, but don’t let it just happen. I tell clients to put some “space” between them and the decision to do it. They do this knowing that they still can choose to do the the habit, if it is as a conscious decision and not just an automatic response. They are instructed to wait 15 minutes and see if they still want to do it. If so great, but usually this amount of time will allow the impulse to die and conscious decisions to win out. This leaves room to install a new, more positive, habit.
Step #3 Replace
After we interrupt playing the pattern, we need a replacement habit. You did not develop the habit completely by accident. The habit was created to serve a purpose. Whatever you receive from this habit is a real need, so you should honor that need. Even a destructive habit fills a need. In his book “Coaching Questions”, Tony Stoltzfus suggests replacing the habit with an equally rewarding habit. For example, if you wanted to stop watching TV at night, he would ask, “What benefit do you get from doing that?” Once you know the benefit and why you do it, only then can you select a more positive habit to replace it with. Let’s say you choose watching TV to relax after a long day of work. Your new replacement habit must be equally relaxing. Let’s say you choose to read a book instead. See if it feeds your relaxation desire. If not, try an another alternative until you find a good fit.
Step #4 Accountability
Once you have set the new habit to use as a replacement, you will likely need someone to hold you accountable. The benefits of accountability are well known in the area of high-performance athletics and business leadership. Your compliance, motivation, and progress always improve when you have a person that you feel accountable to. You must find an accountability partner that won’t let you off the hook. You might think your spouse or your friends are a great option, but they usually will not be. They will say things like, “You have been trying so hard”, or “You had such a long day blah blah...” A coach will say to you, “Did it get done?”
Step #5 Rinse and repeat
Steps 1-4 will get you started down the path of change, but will it last? Habits become ingrained in us only through repetition. One day of success is not the end of your new habit journey. Experts say it will take on average 21 to 66 days to make a new habit stick. So be patient with yourself while forming new habits. A failed day or attempt is not the end. This is a normal rhythm of change. Two steps forward and one step back, then repeat. This way you still always move forward.
Follow these five steps and you cannot fail. They will be your biggest opportunity to get lasting change toward more positive habits. Your habits are going to get built and strengthened with or without your active participation. Choosing the right ones, and getting rid of the bad ones, will lead to a rich and fulfilling life.