Staying On Top When You Slip Into Old Habits

Posted: July 23, 2011 in Psychology
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Staying On Top When You Slip Into Old Habits

Quitting a bad habit can be tough if you don’t have a good game plan. Because it’s a habit, you will have situations and times in the day when you feel it’s time to indulge.

Getting Ready to Quit

One way to prepare for giving up an established habit is to make a pre-emptive strike against those stimuli. Change the situations that prompt the habit. Change the time of day when you will indulge. Be careful with this or you could actually increase the habit. You are attacking the habit before you quit.

I’ll use snacking as an example. You want to go down a waist size. You can keep snacks out of your groceries by eating before you go, but there’s a vending machine at work that is too available. You can go to work with no small bills but it’s still easy to get change or borrow a couple of bucks from someone.

A Minor Setback

You buy one snack.

Worst case.
You decide you’ve failed your mission and must start over. You buy a second snack since you’ve blown it anyways.

Best case.
You decide you haven’t failed your mission. One slip doesn’t mean you need to start over. The number of days since you used the vending machine can stay the same since you just had a slip. You might even use a three strikes rules saying, I’ve only fallen into my old habit if I slip three times. As long as the slips are far apart, you can forget old slips.

A different worst case.
You decide you haven’t failed you mission and modify the rules. One snack a week will be okay. When you get used to that, a second slip changes the rule to twice a week is okay. Before long, you haven’t cut out anything.

Replace the Habit

One of the best moves toward overcoming a habit it replacing it with a different habit. Take up smoking. Then, when you want a snack, go for a smoke instead. Sorry. I’m being funny. A good habit to replace snacking is some exercise routines. A walk or a few pushups are something to do instead of having a snack.

Attitude Means a Lot

If you think of your replacement habit as something you don’t like, you will fail. When you have a bad day, your old habit will look like something to pull you out of it. The replacement will look like it makes things worse.

I’ll use exercise as the example again. You may have been taught to hate exercise in school. Even if you only had one tough gym teacher, you can remember exercising until you were in pain. You decide that, “Exercising is stupid unless there’s a reason.” Getting in better shape or avoiding the snack machines are reasons. But you still have the attitude that exercise is not one of the good things in life. How can you change that? When can you make the change?

Now Is the Only Time

You can live in the moment. When I was a boy, my father had a watch with a saying on it, Now Is The Only Time. If you focus only on the present, any moment can be a good one. Comparing the present moment to the past and future is a setup for unhappiness.

When you have a good memory of peak moments from your past, you can always see how those times were better than the present. When you have great plans for the future, you can always see how tomorrow will be better than today. If you believe in a future heaven, this world can seem like a hell (or maybe just purgatory). You’re better off enjoying the present moment.

Now Is the Only Being

If you think in terms of being instead of time, you can still bring yourself down. How happy does what you’re doing now make you feel compared to going out with friends? Judging the emotional value of an activity relative to other activities is a losing venture in the emotional well-being game. If you’re determined to make yourself unhappy, even something you enjoy doing can be turned negative by thinking of something you enjoy more.

One way around this is with comparisons to activities that make you less happy. It could be worse. At least you’re not digging ditches. This is still a focus on negativity and doesn’t work any better. There is hope though.

Drop the comparisons. Live in the moment absolutely. Each activity brings both pleasure and pain to some degree. You might be hungry while watching a movie, but you focus on the story and forget about it. You may be tired while working, but getting the job done right has your focus. Ask yourself what good you are getting from anything you do. Are you gaining knowledge, strength, or building character? Is it good practice? Do you find it enjoyable on some level? Use all the positives.

Habit? What Habit?

How does this relate to the habit you want to give up? You look forward to the habit because you remember how it brings you some degree of perceived happiness. But habits don’t bring lasting happiness or you would be happy right now because of the habit. All it does is give you a happy break. If it brought you long term happiness, you wouldn’t want to give it up.

We’re back to replacing the habit again. Look for a replacement that does lead to long term happiness. Walk to the snack machine and tell the snacks (in your head), “You aren’t as good as you appear and only make me fatter. I can get better food than you for less money.” Use the money you save on snacks to take a loved one out to a decent restaurant. If you’re quitting smoking, a brisk walk is a better break. Again, you can write a script to tell yourself how the short term happiness of the dead habit is being replaced by the long term happiness of self improvement.

Some of the more addictive habits, like smoking, may require help, but any habit can be beaten.

Article text copyright 2011 David Arthur Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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