“Bad habits are easier to abandon today than tomorrow.” ~Yiddish Proverb
A bad habit or a habit gone bad may be tough to deal with, because it has become part of your system. For some this can be a minor inconvenience, whereas for others it becomes the biggest source of stress and destructive behaviour in their lives. There’s nothing worse than being a prisoner inside of your own mind and feeling like you’re totally out of control. It definitely doesn’t help to build the confidence that you need to live up to your personal legend and life’s purpose. In this post I will explain part of the psychology behind habits and how to use that knowledge to live the life you want.
- Pleasure and pain
Habits are nothing more than automated behaviour. All our behaviour is a function of our perception of pleasure and pain. This may seem obvious, but this means that without conscious interference the body will program itself based on experience. It happens subconsciously and that is why a lot of people aren’t even aware of their habits. The body remembers all pleasure and pain and anchors these feelings in the memory. The mind always tries to avoid pain and to go after pleasure. When people are stressed they get more susceptible to emotional states which fuels their habits or addictions.
You can think of it as a scale where pleasure and pain are weighed up against each other. This makes up the subconscious drive behind all behaviour. It’s part of our psyche and that’s why it’s better to consciously make use of it, rather than trying to suppress it. Suppression of our natural tendencies takes a lot of energy and will drain you over time. Other than that, wouldn’t it be wonderful to use this system in order to adopt good habits easily and without effort? The best part is that anyone can do it.
- Discipline is overrated
A lot of people go wrong by thinking that overcoming a bad habit is all about discipline, resulting in feelings of guilt when they fail to pull through. This only strengthens the vicious circle, because for many the pain of failure is hard to bear as it lowers self-esteem. It’s important to realize that discipline without inner motivation is never enough to abandon a bad habit or adopting a good habit in the long run. If motivation is the bricks of a house, then discipline is the mortar keeping the bricks together.
We all have ups and downs, which is a natural occurence and not something to worry about. Discipline is something you use to pull yourself through a down, but always fueled by motivation. Discipline can also be used to help adopting a new habit when you’re feeling afraid or anxious. It’s that little extra push to give yourself. Thinking that some people are more disciplined than others is a misconception. When you adopt a habit you feel good about it doesn’t take much discipline to carry it out. So don’t think that discipline alone will get you there, because that’s setting yourself up for disappointment.
- Use your powers
The fight against ourself is only a fight because we’re fighting. A peaceful warrior is one who embraces his opposition, turning it into a helpful companion. It means that the key to victory lies in perception. Awareness changes your perception and allows you to consciously reprogram your mind. This is the very first step to take when tackling a bad habit. In concrete terms this means putting an end to denial and guilt through self-reflection and acceptance. From that moment of clarity you can re-evaluate and emphasize your values in order to inspire yourself. This mindshift is the core of the motivation you need to pull through with your plans and ideas.
I used to smoke heavily, even though it was only for a short period in my life. I had tried quitting a couple of times, but discipline only works temporarily. At that time I was getting more involved with martial arts and I wanted to become good at it. I used that dream as a drive to quit smoking, and it worked! In fact, it came to me so easily I was astonished by the effortless amounts of self-control that I had. Basically I replaced a bad habit with a good one, and that’s the secret behind that personal success. Start with motivation and the rest will follow. Remember that the best moment for action is now.
- Replace habits
I already mentioned how I got rid of a bad habit by replacing it with a good one. This is the last, but crucial step in designing your life. Telling yourself to not do something is only empowering that very behaviour by giving it attention. Ironically enough, that only makes the job harder. It’s much easier to tell yourself to do something else instead. After all, you only get to spend your time once. This could mean digging up past hobbies and interests, or trying something completely new. Important is that you enjoy yourself doing it and that it makes you feel great afterwards.
For some this means working out, for others it could mean reading a good book. The sky is the limit. Some people prefer a disciplined approach, while others like to take it slow. Most important is that your good habits don’t change into bad ones. There are plenty of people who deal with their problems by becoming workaholics or having an excessive sex life without love. We all need to blow off steam at times, but it’s also important to not let the steam get into your system in the first place. A good habit should be something that forms the basis of your daily life and acts as a source of positive energy and inspiration.
For me personally this means a healthy sleeping and eating pattern, meditating and working out. Besides that I work on my dreams every day, no matter how small or big. Consistency is the key to improving your life over time. In the past I used to be very demanding of myself, and honestly I still am, but I’ve learned that it’s better to put my attention on the things that I do, rather than on the things I don’t. Most important is to stop fighting, because that takes the energy you need to make changes. When you live well without effort, you’ll have plenty of energy left to realize all of your dreams.
What do you want to change?