The official definition of a habit is “a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior”. That’s some fancy words to pretty much say that it’s something you do often, whether good or bad.
For example …
Some Good Habits we might have
- brushing our teeth
- going for a nightly walk
- having real (in person) conversations with our family and friends
Some Not so Good (“bad”) Habits we might have
- numbing ourselves from our problems with our addictive substance of choice
- lying about trivial things on a regular basis
- not paying our bills on time
All habits have consequences. We don’t adopt the good ones unless we see a benefit. If we didn’t brush our teeth on a regular basis, they might eventually fall right out of our heads. We also don’t stop the not so good ones until they’ve damaged us to the point of us needing a change. Every single person I’ve known who numbed themselves with their addictive substance of choice (alcohol, drugs, food, etc.) didn’t change or even see the need to change until something tragic forced them to reevaluate their behavior.
Part of having a habit is the automatic behavior associated with it. I brush my teeth while my bath water is running. I do it every morning. Okay … maybe not on some weekend mornings when I’m just staying home all day and don’t care if I feel grungy, but you get the point. It’s one of the first things I do and I don’t have to put much thought into it.
For someone who has a bad habit of drinking every night after dinner, the pattern means that the drink follows the dinner. It’s automatic and when you try to stop the habit and break the pattern it’s veeeeeeeeeeeeeery uncomfortable. I’ve been there and I have often described it as feeling twitchy, where you just don’t know what to do with yourself. That’s how it is when trying to change any “bad” habit pattern. We get so used to the normal, that even though we know know know that changing is for the better, we still feel so uncomfortable that we continue to crave the old destructive ways.
In the past few weeks I’ve really started to notice my behavior patterns associated with my habits.
I’m a list maker. Always have been. Probably always will be. I’m motivated by making the list AND by checking stuff off or marking through it when I’m done. I love that feeling of accomplishing something. However, I’m not always motivated to start the list, especially on the weekends. So every Saturday that we stay home, I make a list and I don’t reward myself with the stuff I want to do UNTIL I do everything on the list I have to do. That’s a good habit.
But I’m working on a very bad habit. During my crazy years, I was very critical of pretty much everyone else on the planet. If I didn’t like your shirt, I told you. If I thought your baby had a stupid name, I told you. If I didn’t agree with your choice in ice cream flavor, I told you. Yes, I was a horrible person.
Well even though those behaviors were caused by the prescriptions I was taking, the behaviors eventually formed habits. Every once in a while I want to spout off something hateful, like the filter between my brain and my mouth is broken. But now I can catch myself and the more I do that the more the “bad” habit will fade away.
I know this isn’t a fun area of life to work on, but I really do believe that the rewards are worth the work and just being aware of the things we automatically do can lead to change.
Start to examine your habits this week and why you have those thoughts and behaviors.
What are you getting out of them?
Are they helping or hurting you?
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