We all have habits. We create habits to make life and decisions easier. We tie our shoes a certain way. We have a morning routine that is the same almost every day. Most people even brush their teeth a particular way. We program our life and put it on autopilot in so many ways so that we aren’t so overwhelmed by every little decision and task, but sometimes we program reactions without our own rational consent.
Some habits are positive and promote healthy patterns of happiness and growth. Some are for utility only and don’t really matter that much.
Finally, we have negative habits that are destructive and undermine our best judgment and success.
Phrases like, “I just can’t help it” or “it’s automatic” or “I just lost it” are a good indication that a habit has formed.
The Parts of a habit
Any habit has 3 basic parts; trigger (Antecedent), Behavior and reward (Consequence).
These are the ABC’s of habit formation and habit correction. The cool thing about humans is that we have this great reasoning capability that other animals don’t have. This gives us the ability to choose what we will do or how we will respond to triggers in our environment. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have the same primal reactions to stress and threatening situations, it simply means that we can inhibit our instinctual reactions for long enough to select a better course of action. It may not feel that way sometimes, but it is true. The question is how do we train ourselves to change something that is so automatic?
3 Steps to Stop a Bad Habit (BH) in 21 Days
1. Week 1: Make a check in a pocket journal anytime you get the urge to repeat your BH. Carry a little notebook and pencil or pen that will fit in your pocket everywhere you go. Don’t put it in a purse or bag. Wear it somewhere on your body so you will not forget about it. Any time you start to feel the urge to do/repeat the BH, make a tally mark. Just focus on recognizing when the trigger/urge arises. If you have time, you could write down what it was that triggered the urge, but if not, a tally will suffice. At first this will be difficult for many. If you find yourself having a hard time recognizing the urge to do/repeat the BH before it happens at first, try to recognize it as soon as possible. If you start your BH make a tally and think of what triggered it. Make an honest record. The objective is not perfection, just recognition and incremental improvement. By doing this, you will get better at recognizing your triggers earlier over time. Awareness is the first key to any positive change.
2. Week 2: Identify and implement a positive alternative and implement it. Before you start your second week, take 15-20 minutes to evaluate what the triggers of your BH was the previous week and what a positive alternative behavior would be to replace the BH. Write your alternative response down in your pocket notebook. Your responses could be anything from include, singing, taking ten deep breathes, reciting a poem or verse of scripture, or designating a positive, calm sentence to recite to your yourself when the urge arises. Continue to use your pocket notebook to mark your urges and following your marking, use your alternative response instead of repeating your BH.
3. Week 3: Write the benefits of not doing/repeating your BH in your pocket journal.
During the next seven days start to recognize and write down the benefits you see when you stop doing your BH before you start. You could note the differences you see in yourself or the way you feel. If you need to continue marking your urges for more practice, feel free to do so. Make sure you continue to apply your positive alternatives. If you cannot always write down the benefits you see during the day, take a few minutes each night before bed to write them down.
The APP procedure can be a powerful tool in correcting our programming, but does not necessarily alter our attitudes and perspectives that greatly influence ourselves and those around us. These can have an enormous impact on the longevity of our new habits. The 21 days procedure above can be a powerful step in the right direction and can help you take the edge off any relationship enough to do some of the other internal work to not only stop a behavior but change the entire cycle, replacing it with healthier cycles.
Give up control and trade it for influence, give up perfection for improvement and give up the right way for A GREAT way. Remember that the urge to do/repeat a BH was born out of something deeper inside you. There are reasons why things that trigger you, set you off. There are reasons that it is hard for you to let go of the control, perfection and “right way” of dealing with those triggers.
Remember that each individual has his/her own perspective and the more that you grow to understand and work with instead of against that perspective, the more effective you will be in teaching and building lasting supportive relationships. All of these things grow out of your desire and application to first upgrade yourself.
[Adaptation of information by A. Smithson]