Habits…we’ve all got ’em
And there are ones that serve us and ones that certainly don’t seem to be in our best interests.
Funny how easy it is to continue on with a ‘bad habit’ and how tough it is to break one.
Or how hard it is to start up or stay consistent with good habits and not all that hard to break.
There are many reasons for this, and there’s a lot we can do + understand in order to make habits work in our favor.
I want to share 3 different thoughts that may help! This is not intended to be a comprehensive list, but it’s a good place to start 🙂 You can always reach out to me for more assistance with things like this by clicking the button at the bottom of this email.
1. The ‘bad’ habit itself isn’t an isolated thing. We must look at the bigger picture.
Habits are often nestled within a bigger cycle + series of events. There are things that happen leading up to (and following) the moments during which we engage in a given ‘bad’ habit.
For example, a pattern I once noticed in myself was procrastination, not getting things done, starting but not finishing. This would eventually lead to then getting angry at myself. Feeling ashamed + frustrated by my behavior, self-loathing, sulking… you name it, I was doing it.
From the outside, it’s easy to see how unproductive this is, but many of us, in the moment, cannot see it so clearly + carry on in this way over and over again without anything changing.
Things only began to change when I looked at the bigger picture. I had to realize that the procrastination itself wasn’t the thing that I needed to focus on; it was a response to something else.
I saw that my ‘perfectionist’ tendencies / standards coupled with my fear of failure + rejection would launch me into full procrastination mode. I was afraid to act. At some level, I felt that if whatever I was creating wasn’t clearly ‘perfect’ or exceeding the expectations, I was going to fail miserably, be rejected or humiliated, hurt someone or myself, etc.
So I’d procrastinate and then fall into this shame / sulking spiral again. I’d eventually boost my confidence + motivation to start again, that THIS TIME it was going to be different. I’d set crazy, nearly impossible standards for myself, which naturally, I’d procrastinate on and fail to meet perfectly…and on it goes.
This may not be your story, but this is one example of my own to show you just how the procrastination habit itself wasn’t the problem, rather it was a symptom, a response to cope with an underlying fear.
2. There’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ habit
Sure – some may definitely serve our highest overall good, but it doesn’t negate that there is a reason we’re engaging in this habit. Until we can see the way in which our ‘bad’ habits are serving us, we are unlikely to ever be able to change it. It is one thing to acknowledge a ‘bad’ habit and call ourselves out, but it is another to take the time to get curious + understand why it’s showing up.
Like a ‘bad’ food on a diet, we are drawn to things that we label ‘bad’ because it’s as if we’ve resigned to the fact that if we can call ourselves out then there is no need to look further; instead, we just shame ourselves + feel guilty for being ‘bad’ because of course it’s our fault that we have no self-control or willpower.
We’ve already bought into the myth of our own brokenness, so this approach just supports the way we already have agreed to see ourselves.
The reality is that labels like bad or good are inherently subjective because they are relative, rather than absolute, terms. Every individual and situation can experience things differently.
And while that’s no excuse to engage in behavior that actively harms others, it does mean that taking away the stigma and recognize that if we can just call something a ‘habit’ instead of needing to label it ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can help us feel more ready to look it in the eyes and address it, to actually make lasting change instead of constantly bathing in shame about our inability to change.
As mentioned in #1, we must look at the bigger picture, which involves understanding our WHY. I know I talk about that a lot, but that’s because it’s that important!
For example, let’s say you binge eat every day when you get home from work or visit your family. Afterwards, you feel really sick + uncomfortable, and most likely… ashamed.
If we sit around in this shame, reprimanding + berating ourselves for our behavior, we may feel like we’re in control of the situation because we ‘know better’ but if that’s where it ends, what do you think will happen next time?
I don’t know what your guess is, but mine is that things probably won’t change. At all.
Instead, it will continue over + over again, just like my procrastination.
And why is that?
Because that binge eating is doing something to HELP you.
Even if it’s not a ‘productive’ or ‘virtuous’ approach, it is your body’s way of coping with something it otherwise feels incapable of handling.Possibly stress or anxiety or overwhelm. A co-worker or family member or experience that triggers you. It could really be any number of things.
That ‘numbing out’ you may get during the binge (or drinking a lot, doing drugs, et al.) could be your body’s way of trying to discharge, to not feel so overwhelmed by all the stimulus + demands + emotions you’re facing, to avoid facing that ‘thing’ lurking in the shadows that you aren’t ready to deal with.
So next time you find yourself engaging in the ‘bad’ habit, see the bigger picture, then get curious and try to notice a pattern. It may take you some time to figure it out, and if it’s super deeply ingrained, you might need some help. But if you never take a look ‘under the hood’ and just keep pressing on, things are unlikely to shift.
3. The brain takes time to rewire + we need to help it along
My final nugget for today is that this all requires practice and patience. If you’ve been engaging in this habit for months, years, decades, a lifetime… it is not going to shift overnight. Sure, you can make big strides in a short amount of time, but habits are patterned into our bodies + brains, and while there is neuroplasticity (meaning our brains can develop + change throughout our lives), it often takes time.
It really helps if we commit to change on paper – writing down our ‘why’ we want to change and specifically what you’re committing to doing differently + how that’s going to happen.
For example: Let’s say your habit is drinking wine every single night when you come home until you go to bed.
Ask yourself things like:
– What would I rather this picture look like? What is it I’d truly like to experience in the evenings? Why?
– How can I reduce my need to drink in the first place? (perhaps stress reduction, seeing a therapist or coach, leaning on friends + family for support, switching jobs or roles, etc.)
– What else can I commit to doing instead that might give me the same benefits? (e.g., relaxation, decompression, or whatever it is you feel wine gives you)
– What will likely trigger a slip-up? And how can I prepare myself in the event that I do slip up? What’s my contingency plan?
There’s more to explore, but that’s a great place to start! When we have a plan, we are much better prepared
And of course, I always want to remind you: Be gentle with yourself. If you ‘slip up’ don’t use that as an excuse to shame yourself or give up because there’s something wrong with you. Use the same approach I mentioned earlier: Look at the bigger picture, get curious about ‘why’, and keep going.
You’ve got this. <3
As always, feel free to share this with anyone who may find it helpful, and I look forward to hearing how it helps you.
P.S. If you need some help with this (or other related topics) and are interested in possibly working together, leave a comment below or click ‘Contact’ above, and let’s get talkin’!