Uncover the secret to breaking bad habits

According to experts Jan Alcoe and Emily Gajewski the good news is that turning around negative habits is possible. The first step is to recognise what we are doing. Then think about the potential reasons behind why we are doing it. Ready to lose a bad habit in 2016? Here's how!

Turns out those personal habits we’d prefer to be without are our ‘go to’ comfort zone we have unconsciously created to ‘help’ us deal with difficult moments. 

Want to find a better, healthier habit? Stick with it. Of course it won’t be an instant permanent switch but change is possible. Here’s how:

Know your point of ‘no return’ and then change the pattern

It is true to say that we are creatures of habit. We lay down templates of behaviour which we believe will help to meet our emotional needs. This process is usually unintentional and unconscious, and draws on past experiences and situations where something may have worked for us.

However, it can lead us into patterns or habits which turn out to be problematic, as for example, when someone with a need for intimacy develops a habit of over-eating as a means of providing a sense of internal ‘comfort’.

Breaking these patterns requires that we understand how we ‘do’ the pattern which leads us to the ‘point of no return’ – the point at which we unconsciously reach for a cigarette or chocolate biscuit, or start to bite our nails or grind our teeth. At this moment, we are in a trance state, completely and narrowly focused on the expectation of pleasure which we will experience once we take this final step.

By understanding the thoughts, feelings and actions which lead up to this point of no return which forces us to act, we can bring the whole pattern into full consciousness. This enables us to make a choice to divert away from this critical point towards more resourceful behaviour. The end result is that we feel better about ourselves and more in control.

4 steps to changing habits

Do you have a habit you would like to change? First, ask yourself what emotional need or needs your habit is trying to address? How can you meet these in more healthy or appropriate ways? What support will you need? Imagine how it will be to get your needs met in these better ways.

Step 1: Take a sheet of paper and write down all the things you think about, feel and do which lead you to the point of no return with your habit, in the order in which they occur, up to the point of no return. This is the point where it seems that you are in an ‘addictive trance’ and cannot turn back, for example:

  • Eating a packet of biscuits in the evening (action)
  • I sit on the settee watching TV after my dinner (action)
  • I feel a bit bored (feeling)
  • I start to imagine the biscuits in the kitchen cupboard (thought)
  • My mouth starts watering (feeling)
  • I think, ‘I still feel a bit hungry, I’ll just have a biscuit and then I’ll feel a bit fuller’ (thought)
  • I get up and walk into the kitchen, opening the cupboard door (action)
  • I see the biscuits and start to feel even hungrier (feeling)
  • I think, ‘I may as well take the packet back to the living room’ (thought)
  • I reach for the packet (action and point of no return)

Shutterstock _89420875 (1)Why not swap a cookie for a pack of almonds or a fresh fruit?

Step 2: Having identified your point of no return, jot down some ideas of how you might divert away from it, just before you reach it, for example: 

  • Leave the kitchen and phone my friend.
  • If there is nothing interesting on TV, watch a DVD I enjoy.
  • Go for a walk or run round the block.
  • Sit at my computer and find out information for my holiday.

Shutterstock _232027741Try to think of alternatives which are enjoyable and fulfilling, and help to meet the emotional needs you have identified in healthier or better ways

Step 3: Now spend a few minutes relaxing, or doing breathing exercises. Then, imagine going through the steps to just before your point of no return. At this point, float out of yourself and watch yourself in a detached way.

See yourself diverting away from your point of no return into something that absorbs you. Float back into yourself and notice how this feels. What is it like to not be driven by addictive thinking or behaviour and to be doing something more beneficial?

Shutterstock _294285161Have you tried mindfulness? Read more about it here

Step 4: Write down some of these positive thoughts and feelings. Practise your new pattern in your mind as often as you can. Notice the positive differences in the situation which result from your new behaviour. 

Ready to make a positive change? Start today!

What is an unhealthy habit you would love to lose? Join our conversation below. . .