Got a habit you’d like to break?
Smoking? Overeating? Drinking? Complaining?
Whatever you’re battling, I’ve got some good news: it’s impossible to “break” a habit.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Hey, Burke, what kind of good news is that?” Or maybe, “If you’ve got some more good news like that, keep it to yourself.”
But hear me out.
Every habit starts out as an effort to accomplish something positive.
Biting your nails? It usually begins as a way to distract yourself from feelings of nervousness.
Drinking? Gambling? Sex? Overeating? Those get a foothold in your life when you’re looking for something to make you feel good. Chronic complaining may be a way to regain a little power.
So the most effective way to deal with a habit is to treat it as a living (or semi-living) entity that has your best interests at heart.
Once a habit is born, it’s not going to just lie down and quit doing its job. Oh no, that habit is there to guard you and improve your life — even if it kills you. (I never said a habit is smart, just alive.)
Napoleon Hill wrote, “In every adversity there is the seed of an equivalent or greater advantage.”
That’s even true for a habit you’d like to be rid of.
And it’s simple to do if you’ll just create a new habit and piggyback it on top of the original habit.
I watched my father quit smoking when he was 43 years old.
After smoking for nearly 30 years, he had a coughing fit one day that turned him purple, staggered him sagging and breathless against a wall, and left him barely conscious.
That afternoon he quietly decided that he was through smoking forever.
All his friends laughed, of course. He’d been a 3-4 pack a day man for as long as they knew him.
But he did quit. Then and there.
Months later, I overheard him explain how he did it.
First, he WANTED to do it… he was motivated. Once he had that, all he needed was a method. A technique.
He kept the cigarettes right there in the same shirt pocket. We wanted to be able to reach for those smokes just like always. So he kept them where he knew they would trigger his habit.
But then — and this is where it gets interesting — as soon as he caught himself pulling out the pack and tapping out a cigarette, he inserted a new habit to piggyback on the old one. With the unlit cigarette in his hand, he’d walk to a trash can and shred the tobacco between his fingers and throw it away.
Then he’d slip the pack back into his shirt pocket.
He could always pull out a second one and smoke it if he wanted to, but he had a choice. That second one wasn’t a habit — only the first one was.
He continued to “use” 3-4 packs a day for a couple of days, but gradually that new, piggybacked habit began to go on automatic. He’d get the urge to smoke, reach for the pack, and then, before pulling it out, he was already rubbing his fingers together, as though shredding the cigarette.
Over the next two weeks, I watched my father become a non-smoker, simply by using his first habit and adding onto it, rather than fighting against it.
Does this give you any ideas for your own habits?
Do you find yourself pulling food out of the refrigerator or pantry before you’re even aware of it?
Why not pull those silly pictures off the fridge door — you know, the ones that are supposed to make you feel guilty? Instead, keep a large supply of something that will fill you up. Don’t stop cramming those chocolates into your mouth. Just make a deal with yourself: you can still have all the candy you usually eat, but first, you’ll eat a raw carrot before you do the candy, the fried chicken and the three pizzas.
You’re not taking anything away from yourself. You’re actually adding new choices.
It’s a way to buy yourself time. If you can stop and come back down from automatic for a minute or two, it’ll give you a choice regarding what you’re doing.
If it’s addiction to sex, make a deal with yourself that when you walk over and introduce yourself to that next gorgeous person, you’ll first do something totally different. Maybe you’ll call your spouse and tell him/her that you love them. Or maybe you’ll ask that blond if they’d like to come home and meet your wife/husband. A simple thing really. Just to interrupt the usual automatic flow.
Gambling? Alcohol? Both GA and AA have excellent programs based on admitting you’ve got a problem, and then building from there.
Whatever the problem, you can change it by using it as a foundation stone.
Maybe it’s complaining. Each time you catch yourself, you might stop and insert a positive statement on the subject: “The boss is such an utter ass … but of course, he’s also smart enough to hire me.”
Is it a constant lack of money?
Some of the most highly motivated business people I’ve ever seen were once destitute. And now they use their former lack as a driving force to keep them moving.
They don’t deny what they’ve been through, but at the same time, they don’t let those experiences be the only definition of who they are. They take whatever block they stumble over, and they climb up on it and keep going.
So instead of trying to break what you’ve got, just figure out a way to use it.
Build on that “problem” and incorporate it as one of your strengths.
Try it today. Start looking for ways to put your energies into building instead of breaking.
You and your habits will be happier for it.