Let’s face it, we would all be radiantly healthy, ceaselessly wealthy and gloriously happy if it wasn’t for bad habits. Bad habits are the one obstacle to success that is almost always the hardest to overcome. And that’s because our bad habits are self-inflicted, and often times the things we enjoy the most….or at least we think we do. In this post, I want to discuss the psychology of bad habits and how to make them work for, rather than against, you.
To start, what is a bad habit? Smoking? Eating too much? Eating to little? Too much TV? Too much exercise? When it comes to bad habits, there is no black and white. It’s all relative, and one person’s bad habit may be another persons standard routine, or even their pride and joy. So one thing is clear about bad habits – they are subjective. Which means they are based on perspective, which is good news because perspective can be changed and molded to suit one’s needs. You just have to know where to start.
Over the last year, a big goal of mine was to turn my so-called bad habits into good ones. I wanted to stop procrastinating, stop smoking, stop over-eating, stop over-sleeping, stop binge drinking and stop self-loathing. My intentions were good, of course. But when I told myself that I had to STOP doing all these things, it just made me do them more! I was indulging in my bad habits even more habitually than before. And the whole time, I heard a voice in the back of my head saying “You shouldn’t be doing this! You SHOULD NOT be doing this!!”. But it wasn’t enough to make me stop. But why????
High school. Teenagers. Tell them not to do something. What do they do? Exactly what you tell them not to! That same kind of psychology is exactly what is at play when you are trying to break a bad habit. You tell yourself no, and five minutes later you’re in the midst of a vengeful act of rebellion. This is because nobody responds positively to negative reinforcement! And when you make negative statements to yourself (“no”, “don’t”, “can’t”, “never”, “shouldn’t”, etc), your immediate reaction is to assert your independence as a pleasure seeker. There is no pleasure in “I can never eat chocolate again for the rest of my life.” But there is pleasure in “I can eat lots of delicious, nutritious food.” See the difference? One statement is about denial and restraint. It feels like a punishment. And it is absolutely not sustainable. The other statement is about abundance, it is positively-aligned, rewarding – “I can have all of this beautiful, wonderful food!” And that IS sustainable.
Hopefully, you are beginning to see that the key to breaking bad habits is not actually about doing something (or not doing something rather), but about how you are perceiving something. All you have to do to change a bad habit is change your mind. Shift your point of mental focus from the negative to the positive. For example, if you are trying to quit smoking, instead of thinking “No more cigarettes”, think “More health” or “Easier breathing” or “Clear lungs.” Put your mental focus on what it is that you DO want, rather than what you don’t want. If you are constantly thinking about what you don’t want, you are bound to behave in a way that reinforces your mindset, and you’re going to end up doing exactly what it is you are trying not to do. But, if you are constantly thinking about what you DO want, you are bound to start acting in ways that reinforce THAT mindset, and that’s how you begin to create positive habits.
Here’s how to make this work for you and start transforming those bad habits today. Make a list of all the habits you would like to change. Now for each habit, rephrase it using positive, action-oriented language. Turn that negative into a positive! “Stop procrastinating” becomes “Act on my inspiration” or “Be the kind of person that fulfills my responsibilities”. Phrase it in a way that inspires, activates your desires and lights your fires (I’m a song writer, couldn’t resist the opportunity to rhyme!!). Now play that phrase over and over and over in your mind. Make it the sound track to your daily life. You’re bound to see positive results 🙂