If we’re being perfectly honest with ourselves, most of us – if not all – have some very good, functional habits, but also some not-so-good dysfunctional ones. Right?! Hey, it’s no sin to have some less-than-desirable ones. However, what if we can find a way to break those bad ones and replace them with better ones?
So, what causes bad habits? Many people believe they form and are practiced due to stress and even boredom. I’m not arguing that point! However, I think that bad habits also form due to trapped emotions still playing a role in our behavior. Why? If they’re trapped (think Emotion Code as one method of release), and we haven’t been able to let them go, then they are still pushing us to survive whatever emotions never got released.
This can happen easily enough from our childhoods. Even when we’ve had good upbringings, life still happens. Maybe someone made a very difficult experience with a separation of some sort, or was in a bad accident, or any number of things that may have been experienced as traumatic.
For example, one of my worst bad habits has traditionally been eating carbs – particularly sugary things – in response to when I feel threatened. Carbs have a way of rewarding me, soothing me, and making me forget the stress and trauma of what was experienced.
Then there’s the issue of epigenetics and how feelings can get transferred down to future generations by piggy-backing on top of genes without altering one’s genetic structure. Yes – it’s science – it really can happen! (Think epigenetics.)
However, we can still learn new and healthier ways to deal with whatever is driving those bad habits. While it is still a great idea to identify and overcome whatever the cause of the bad habits is, it’s possible to replace them now with healthier versions of such habits.
We’ve heard from others to just stop doing whatever it is we’re doing. That seldom works (although it does in a few cases). And why would anyone want you to stop doing something that protects you in a weird sort of way?
What we propose is that we swap out a healthy habit for the habit that has too many undesirable side effects. For example, maybe we smoke cigarettes. We know that’s entirely unhealthy, so some people have opted for chewing gum.
While that doesn’t work for everyone (and we have to think about the physiological part of that addictive behavior), we need to think about something that will help you cope with whatever the smoking is doing for you.
(Although tobacco is a stimulant, people say it calms them down – maybe by pushing you over your threshold for feeling the stress, in much the same way that some ADHD prescription drugs do.) Instead of smoking, try exercise of some sort, which will help calm you down, usually afterwards. Some people try breathing exercises. Also, cutting out triggers that lead you to smoke may be very helpful.
I can remember feeling very down-in-the-dumps one day, remembering a very close loved one I had lost recently. Instead of heading to the ice cream, I stopped by the gym and got myself on the treadmill, maybe just for 5 minutes.
I couldn’t believe how much better I felt afterwards. No, the pain of grieving still comes once in a while, but I realized I didn’t have to blunt my grief with sugar. That short workout chased away my doldrums well enough.
Many of us engage in wishful thinking about just being free of some of our more difficult and dysfunctional habits. Then we beat up on ourselves because we still embrace those habits. NO SELF-DEPRECATION PLEASE! You formed a habit likely out of some type of protection, and so I believe we should embrace those parts of ourselves that helped us survive and overcome situations. We do them because we are strong!
However, like medications, some habits have good effects and side-effects. So, let’s find a way to do away with the side-effects by establishing healthy habits! Here are a few tips:
1. Identify a habit you want to target.
2. Notice when you do it. Keep a journal and write down where, when, and even why you did it. You may not know why, but that’s okay. Write down what is happening when you engage the bad habit.
3. Notate how you feel at the time.
4. Identify some viable benefits you will experience by changing the habit.
5. Review this list daily.
6. If you have a friend or family member who is trying to break a bad habit, perhaps you can work on this together.
7. Practice mindfulness. This may help you notice more about how this habit affects you.
8. Engage in some sort of therapy or self-help. Remember, there are always backstories or reasons why you formed a bad habit. Don’t forget to celebrate what a strong person you are.
9. Notate good habits you have – because you have many of these, too.
10. Decide what healthier, new behavior you want to try as a substitute.
11. Leave yourself reminders like sticky notes around where you’ll see them to reinforce your determination to be a better you.
And remember, if you fall off the wagon, don’t beat up on yourself. Just pick yourself up and start over again.
Your path to creating a healthier version of you is yours uniquely. Not every approach will work. Keep trying different things and never give up on yourself.
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And, as always, please have a happy, holistically healthy day!