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How to drop a bad habit

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

I want to write about bad habits today.  In my life, I  have had many.  I sleep in much later than I should.  I like to drink soda.  I smoke cigarettes when drunk.  However, the habits I really want to address are patterns of thought.

We all have thought patterns that we use on a daily basis.  These have likely formed over many years, and may have been taught to us by our parents or friends.  Patterns typically start with a fundamental belief.  We can recognize this belief, and if it is a negative belief, we will probably want to change it.  For most of us, it happens like this:

We want to become more fit and realize we should probably workout to achieve this.  At some point during the day, we may think it’s time to work out.  For those of us that do not like working out, we typically have a series of thoughts that keep us from doing so.  It’s too hot.  I’m too tired.  I don’t have the right workout equipment.  The gym will be busy.  I don’t have time.  I’ll do it tomorrow.  I need to start off slower.  It will hurt.  I don’t like pain.  I don’t want to get sweaty.  It’s not really worth it.

This is a pattern.  We continue to avoid working out, even though we know logically it keeps us from our goals.  The result of this pattern is that we do not workout and do not take action.  This type of thinking is a bad habit, and is cyclical.  We can spin this pattern over and over again for years and put on a lot of weight.

A lot of times we make goals in life that sound great, but we don’t follow through.  I want to get in shape is a common goal.  Why don’t we follow through?

We don’t follow through because we associate more pain to working out than not working out.  Our thought pattern displays this quite clearly.  I guarantee you anyone who wants to work out, but consistently does not has some major negative beliefs about fitness.

The first step to breaking a bad habit is to get leverage on yourself.  We have to find a way to associate more pain with continuing to act the same way, and more pleasure to changing the way we act.  In the case of my example, we could change where our negative thoughts go in order to motivate us:

If I don’t workout today I will be one day more out of shape.  I will feel worse and worse every day I do not work out.  I can already feel myself getting fatter this moment.  My friends will know I did not work out and I will go to sleep feel miserable about myself.  If I keep living this way, I may end up with serious health problems later in life.  I might die before my parents.  That would be awful.

Despite shifting our negativity, having leverage to change does not always lead to a change in our actions.  Even if we logically understand something, it is very unlikely we will follow through with it daily in order to create lasting change.  That’s what we are after truthfully, lasting change and a new, better lifestyle.

It is hard to change the way we think and act because our minds function well beyond the surface level of consciousness.  If we have previously lived a lifestyle where we avoid fitness, there are going to be some subconscious beliefs and actions associated with this lifestyle.  One of these subconscious actions is the negative pattern of thoughts we produce.  We have to replace bad patterns with good ones in order to shift our psychology and physiology.  This is essential for changing.  The reason being that we are emotional beings and whether we know it or not, we make significant emotional connections to everything we do or don’t do.  The emotional associations we hold really dictate the actions we take on a daily basis.

If you want to workout, you can’t just change the way you logically perceive fitness, you have to also change the emotions as well.

If you’ve ever watched the show the biggest loser, you’ll notice a whole lot of emotions being displayed.  In the beginning, the contestants not only have to battle with their physical limitations in performing exercises, but also their emotions.  You often see contestants whining, complaining, crying, even getting angry at the personal trainer.  In some cases, the contestants get injured.  Did this injury really occur, or did the contestant manifest it unknowingly?

These individuals are clearly overweight and have not been living a physically active lifestyle.  Yet, they signed up for the show so they must want to change.  Logically they want to change.  Emotionally, they are attached to the comfortable lifestyle they have been living.  Negative emotion is always a byproduct of fear or discomfort.  Don’t rag yourself so much if you have a lot of negative emotions.  You are likely in a situation that is challenging and promotes growth.  At the same time, I want you to know that we can change our emotions by breaking bad patterns.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1:
We begin to have bad, unproductive thoughts that are keeping us from taking a positive action, or making us continue to take a negative action.

Step 2:
We recognize this pattern and are able to notice it when it comes up, even if we can’t control it yet.

Step 3:
As we begin to experience the bad pattern, we interrupt it. (I’ll explain what this means in a moment)

Step 4:
We then replace the bad pattern with a new, good pattern.

Think of patterns as records that play in our heads.  If you play a record, it will sound the same every time.  However, if you take a nail and put a scratch in that record, it will skip.  If you put a big enough scratch in that record, it may completely stop playing when it gets to that point.  Furthermore, if you put a whole bunch of big scratches in that record, it won’t play at all.

Our patterns can be stopped the same way as a record.  We have to scratch them up as we are playing them.  The more we scratch them, the harder it will be for us to play them.  We scratch up our patterns by using pattern interrupts.  A pattern interrupt is something bizarre and out of place that we do in the middle of our pattern.  It needs to be unusual and generally involves moving our body.  The more unusual and out of place for us the better.  For example, one pattern interrupt that I use is to squeeze my nose, tug on my ear, and say, “Honk! Honk!”

Why and how this works:
Our patterns are loops of thoughts.  When we loop negative or unproductive thoughts, it affects our physiology and where we are focusing our attention.  After playing this loop long enough, we attach emotion to it.  This emotion adds fuel to the negative pattern and keeps it going.  Overtime, this pattern automatically plays an emotion as well, and puts us in a bad state.

If we do something totally bizarre in the middle of our pattern, it distracts us and breaks the loop.  At no point earlier in our lives did our negative patterns ever include squeezing our noses, tugging our ears, and saying, “Honk! Honk!”  Something is different here.  We broke the pattern, and our subconscious mind recognizes it.  When we break the pattern, we break the emotional state we are in as well.  If we are starting to feel depressed and tired, using a pattern interrupt where we have to smile and move our body really fast can alter our emotional state.

Once the pattern is broken, we have to replace it with a new pattern, otherwise the bad pattern might start playing again.  Remember, a scratched record can still play, it will just skip at a certain point.  Scratching a record is simply not enough.  We must replace it with a new record!  Whatever thoughts your negative pattern produces, take the positive opposite and form good, productive thoughts.

Back to our example:

We feel pressured to workout.  Our negative pattern begins to play.  I don’t want to workout.  I hate being sweaty.  It’s too hot.  I’m soooo tirrred….

We break the pattern and use our pattern interrupt.

We play our new pattern of thoughts.  I love working out.  I can already feel myself energizing as I think about it.  I know once I get to the gym and start moving I’ll be wide awake.  I really enjoy sweating all the toxins out of my body.  It’s a perfectly hot day to build up a great sweat.

This may sound a bit silly, but you have to realize that in order to break some serious negative thinking, you have to replace it with some serious positive thinking.  Whatever intensity our negative pattern is, we need to use the same intensity in creating a positive pattern, if not greater.  Think of the process like filling cracks in a sidewalk with cement.  You can’t use half as much cement as the size of the crack.  No, this would leave only a half filled crack.

Fortunately, after we interrupt our bad patterns enough, we will have created a new habit that we will do naturally, which won’t require squeezing our noses or talking like a person who drank a glass of sunshine that morning.  Although, positive thinking is worth its weight in gold.

To sum it all up, if you want to break a bad habit or start a good habit, you have to change the emotional associations you make.

What are some bad habits that you have?  What are some new habits you’d like to have?  What habits must you drop right now and what habits must you add right now?

New patterns don’t always have to be of the same nature as the old habit.  If you want to quit smoking, but start playing guitar, you can replace smoking with playing guitar using the process described above.

Good luck!

Here are some pattern interrupts you can use:
Squeezing your nose, tugging your ear, and saying, “Honk! Honk!”
Flapping your arms like wings and squawking like a chicken.
Smiling and slapping yourself in the face (as hard as you want)
Squeezing the skin on your forearm, laughing, and saying, “Damn it feels good to be a gangster.”

I encourage you to do silly things like this because they are so out of line with your patterns and your personality.  Remember, make a big scratch in that record.

For those of you who need patterns interrupts that are less outrageous, or need to be done in private, try these:
Wear a rubber band around your wrist and snap it on your skin.
Carrying around a pen or lighter that shocks you and shock yourself.
Listen to a song that you simply cannot take seriously.  Perhaps the Barney Theme Song.