What is a habit? According to Merriam-Webster, a habit is a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiological exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance. Basically it’s an action that has become so automatic that we are barely conscious of it.
Habits serve a great function; we become so used to doing something that it’s done almost on automatic pilot, freeing our minds to focus on the pressing issue of the moment. This habituation allows us to multi task while prioritizing. This is a good thing, right?
But what happens when the habituation is not serving us? When we come home and the habit is to de-stress by having a drink or two and watching mindless television for an hour or two while things of a more important nature go undone. You see habits serve our needs and our emotions, and when habits become coping methods, they are really difficult to break away from.
When we are present to our lives we can easily determine which habits serve us and which do not. When we are in a state of power, we can actually do something about it. When we are feeling powerless and vulnerable, we instinctively want to avoid pain and seek pleasure. This is a survival instinct. However, our choices will determine which will alleviate the pain or continue the suffering.
When working with my clients, evaluating habits and patterns and having them take responsibility for their actions changes their state from victimization in the case of disempowering habits, to a state of power through the acceptance of the behavior. Once the behavior is accepted we can look for the triggers and then re-pattern our responses with more empowering choices. This is not easy because these patterns and habits are hard wired into our response system; these are unconscious responses to emotional triggers and they’re anchored in there pretty well.
The process is rigorous. The commitment to change must be certain, and the power must be there to hold this new vision of their life. They say that a new behavior becomes a habit or part of our unconscious behavior after 40 days. I believe this gives us enough time to evaluate the results of this discipline and really start to see some results from our hard work.
In a process where we are removing some unwanted behavior or pattern, there must be something of a greater or more beneficial behavior that replaces it. It has been said, that the universe abhors a vacuum, so what we take away must be consciously replaced, and that replaced habit must be in alignment with the goals and disposition of the individual.
It would not serve the individual I’m working with if I replace a disempowering habit with a habit that is too far a stretch for the client to hold and maintain. The client will feel defeated and typically run back to the habit that was just broken away from. How many times do we see this, the person goes to the gym, stays on their diet and looks great, then instead of staying in the empowered state of, I’m so grateful that I embraced a healthier life style, they start to judge everything about themselves creating goals that are so ambitious that even if they were momentarily obtained they could not hold onto this outcome for very long.
Unfortunately, in this state of empowered-disempowerment we start to lose our grasp on our new reality and the Hob-Goblins of our previous thinking start to chip away and erode our foundation within these new, healthy habits. This is the habit within the habit that needs to be broken.
I know this all seems so daunting. How does one break out of bad habits and patterns for life? Well we’re human beings so there are no guarantees, but I will say this, loving yourself presently, accepting oneself unconditionally and remembering that all things worth having require discipline and resolve is a great place to start.