Most people aren’t so good at changing bad habits because they won’t work at replacing them with habits that suit their purposes better.
Equally, some people won’t recognise that what they are doing hasn’t become a bad habit. They choose instead to blame their environment, their upbringing or to say things like “It’s just the way I am.”
Most people don’t have that
willingness to break bad habits.
They have a lot of excuses and talk like victims.
Two friends of mine who I shall call Roger and Elaine have been married now for something like 45 years.
When he was a young man Roger ran a youth soccer team, just as I did, and that is how we came to know each other.
I remember when they first started going out together. They were a good looking young couple, slim, fit and well-balanced.
They are still a lovely couple. The only difference is that they are enormous.
When I visited their home recently and saw their wedding picture upon the wall, I had difficulty believing they were the same two people I had known all these years.
Although Roger manages to get out and about and lead a reasonably active life, despite his 280-300 pounds in weight, Elaine cannot go very far at all, and suffers bouts of ill-health related solely to her size and weight.
Some years ago – convinced that their ever increasing weight was due to some abnormal growth hormone or some other disease – they visited specialists, but to no avail.
I don’t believe that even now they recognise that everything is down to their own bad habit.
It is a had habit they appear to have adopted together once they were married. What is the bad habit? They eat too much!
No doubt at first they ate a little more than they should and, gradually as their stomachs have increased in size, they have eaten still more and so the cycle has gone on.
So often our habits serve us well. Do you remember learning to tie your shoelaces, for example?
It was a struggle at first, wasn’t it? It gradually became easier and easier.
I suspect that when you now tie your shoelaces you don’t even think about it most of the time, and often it is done in a rush.
That simple task, just like driving a motor vehicle or brushing your teeth, has become such a habit that you don’t have to consider it.
This is how our brains make things easy for us. But now and again we get into bad habits: we eat too much; we drink too much alcohol; we smoke and don’t know how to stop.
All these are habits. We start them because in some way they make us comfortable. For that very reason, the brain keeps urging us to repeat them.
The first challenge any adviser or therapist faces in these situations is to convince the client that their troubles are as a result of their own bad habits.
You see, people generally feel much more comfortable with themselves when they say things like “Ah, but it’s just the way I am” or “My parents were overweight as well; it is just in our genes.”
Perhaps the very best one of all is: “God just made me this way, you see. He wants me like this.”
When they make statements like that they are able to absolve themselves of all personal responsibility and blame it on some outside force.
If they cannot be persuaded otherwise, of course, there is little hope for them.
So if you fall into this category and want to change your life for the better by reducing what you eat and drink or giving up smoking altogether, now is the time to get real.
Accept that you are where you are now because of what you have or haven’t done in the past – just like the rest of us!
It doesn’t matter why you started doing what you did to get you where you are now.
Some therapists will encourage you to analyse all that, take your money over a period of time, until a couple of years later you are an expert on the causes of your own downfall but not a step nearer solving the difficulties.
All you need to do at first is to recognise that it is because of the bad habit or habits that you are now well used to, and then decide to change those habits.
Now, those habits took time to form but remember: you weren’t born with them. They are not part of you.
The next step is to decide that you will change the habit. Assume for a moment that you believe you have been drinking rather too much and wish to reduce that to more normal social drinking levels or even cut it out altogether.
Notice I am saying “change the habit”. What is the habit that causes the excess drinking? Have you become used to having a drink with your lunch or dinner in the evenings?
Replace the habit with something more acceptable. If your habit has been to visit a bar for a pint and a sandwich at lunchtime, change it.
Have your sandwich somewhere else and then go for a walk, play a game of squash, or do something else that appeals to you. At dinner time have a non-alcoholic drink.
Whatever you do, make a habit of it. In order to eradicate the bad habit you need not only to stop it but to replace it with something beneficial.
It is just the same with overeating. If you tend to graze all day long, take the decision that you will eat reasonable portions only at set meal times and eat nothing in between.
At first you will experience pangs of hunger because your stomach has got used to the habit of being constantly fed and the comfortable feeling that brings.
But it is a trick. When it happens just take a drink of water and occupy your mind by doing something else.
The feeling will pass within 15 minutes or so and, anyway, you can be sure that you will not die of hunger before the next meal time.
The next step is to get used to eating smaller meals at meal times. There is no need for any special or drastic diet.
All that is needed instead is to eat smaller meals regularly so that your body is well nourished but you are not bloated or overfed.
I cannot stress too highly that the secret is to practise the new habit and keep on practising.
The more you practise it, the sooner you will realise that you were not made in a certain way it is not all the fault of some outside unseen force.
That will bring with it the realisation that YOU are in charge of your life with all its habits and you can change them as you wish.
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