Old Habits Die Hard…
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” — (Will Durant based on Aristotle’s teachings)
Who we are is largely made up of what we do in life. The habits we have, our daily routines and how we do or don’t achieve things in life. Often habits are picked up in childhood and we unconsciously repeat them watching our significant others in their behaviors and ways of being. Children often mirror their parents behaviors as a form of role modelling. For instance if you had a parent who had a habit of worrying a lot and over analyzing situations, chances are you picked up on this. You may have similar tendencies to over analyze and worry about things.
Such unconscious habits often repeat in our behaviors throughout life without us noticing them. We believe them to be our own thought processes and ways of behaving, our own habits if you like. However scratch the surface and you will find that many of your so called ‘habits’ are things you picked up- not ones you directly chose. In adulthood we can and do create routines, and form new habits. Sometimes we even manage to break old bad habits but it is an ongoing battle of conscious change versus unconscious behaviors that make habit making and breaking so challenging.
Understanding Your Habits
So what is a habit? It is a consistent, often unconscious pattern of behavior, something may you do daily and are constant with. A settled or regular tendency or practice, and one that can be especially hard to give up. That is why old habits die hard as the saying goes. We find ourselves falling into the same old habits and get frustrated with ourselves when nothing changes. Bad habits can be disruptive and keep you from achieving your potential in life. They sabotage your health and well being leaving you feeling drained.
Self awareness is key here, there may be reasons why you repeat bad habits which may have been created to defend or soothe you from past difficult experiences. Sometimes we pull at our hair (Trichotillomania) or bite our nails as stress responses that then become habits. They started out as coping mechanisms and may have helped before but can hinder in the long run. In such cases understanding the root causes of why the habit was formed and then addressing that can help to replace it with a healthier habit. Therapy can help you to identify past unresolved issues if you feel stuck in a habit, and may free you from self sabotaging behaviors.
If you think about it every habit you have right now is present for a reason. You do them because it helps in some way sometimes with reducing stress by smoking or drinking to cope with problems. Or staying in an unhappy relationship feeling that its better to be with them than without despite the emotional turmoil. For some it could be the ‘FOMO’ effect fear of missing out. So constantly checking social media, messages and emails to keep up which affects eating and sleeping habits and negatively impacts on work, school and home life. “You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” John C. Maxwell.
Replacing Old Habits With New Healthier Ones
The good news is new habits can be created and old habits can die. It takes about 21 days to form a new habit according to Phillippa Lally; a health psychology researcher at University College London. A popular method to build habits is the 21/90 rule. Basically you decide to commit to a personal or professional goal for 21 days and after three weeks of repeating this pattern it will form into a habit. Once you have established the habit, you continue to consistently repeat this pattern for a further ninety days which serves to consolidate it into a firm change. Think about how you learn a new language, it is through consistent repetition on a daily basis that helps you to become fluent. The same applies to forming new habits.
The beauty of a habit is its changeability, the fact that you can decide to make a new habit or break an old one. Small everyday changes lead to big overall changes in lifestyle, health and well being. So lets focus on replacing bad habits with new habits that offer the same amount of support but instead benefit us in a positive way. For instance if you drink when you get stressed, then suddenly stopping won’t work because it may be an addiction so instead think of ways to address this and replace this — maybe by drinking something non alcoholic or smaller amounts to begin with.
This could lead to a less intense habit and support via groups like Alcoholics Anonymous will ensure continued support. Think of creative ways to change habits when dealing with stressful situations, and use that new behavior instead of having a drink. “The secret to permanently breaking any bad habit is to love something greater than the habit.” ―Bryant McGill
Building Healthy Habits
Plan ahead. Decide on a substitute for your bad habit. Knowledge is key so raise your self awareness, explore what triggers you, and identify any unhealthy patterns. Lets use drink as an example here. Are you more likely to drink during times of stress, or anxiety? Or when feeling upset or bored? Know yourself and when you are most likely to need or want to drink. Consider how you will respond when you find yourself wanting to reach for the bottle. Next time you are about to grab an alcoholic drink, try a new habit instead:
a. Have a stock of non alcoholic drinks.
b. Distract yourself by chewing gum, or eat some fruit
c. Change your environment go for a walk
d. Call a friend who is aware of your struggle and can offer words of support. Or even better buddy up with someone you know is struggling with the same habit. Spur each other on and help when things get tough. Its a lot less lonely and helps with motivation if you have another person on a similar journey. You are the company you keep so filter out those who may keep you engaged in old ways and create new friendships with like minded people.
e. Have a workout routine you can do in short bursts to create a healthy distraction.
f. Paint, draw, listen to your favorite music or watch TV
g. Monitor your own progress -try keeping a journal to note your thoughts, challenges, struggles and feelings on this journey of change.
h. Visualize yourself in the future doing well and having broken this habit. See the positive impact it has on you and consider how it feels to be like this.
i. Plan in treats for yourself when you achieve milestones in replacing old habits with new ones. Celebrate your success and hold firm to the commitment to continue with the new healthier habit. It can be an uphill struggle full of relapses but never give up, have patience and compassion for yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon- get straight back on again. If it took years of conditioning to living with such habits it will take time to break and replace them with something better.
j. Being mindful of your inner voice helps so be kind when talking to yourself the inner dialogue you have is important. Instead of being critical and unkind offer kind words of patience, understanding and hope to yourself. Acknowledge the issue whilst also addressing it by making statements like;
“I know I have a problem with (insert old habit) however I am committed to trying something new, if I don’t do anything then nothing will change. I have to try my best and repeat this new habit until it becomes second nature.”
A quote that speaks volumes about the power of habit is the following by Bruce Lee, habits are a force to be reckoned with. Empower yourself with good habits.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks, but I do fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” -Bruce Lee