What is the most common habit you recognise in the world?
You’ll notice I didn’t say “bad” habit, but this is what we tend to notice most. We might say someone has got in to the habit of being late, or that someone has a “bad habit” of interrupting (or chewing or breathing really loudly).
When we describe habits, we usually mean something that annoys, frustrates or doesn’t work for us well. Actually, a habit is just something we tend to do automatically; it might not be “right” or “wrong”, it’s just something we instinctively do, because we’ve always done it.
Each of us will have developed habits over time; American Psychiatrist Judson Brewer refers to these as reactive patterns. He suggests that every habit has a trigger, which leads to the behaviour – the habit. These habits then give us a sense of reward in that moment, even if the long term impact is actually not that great. For example, in the “old days”, when I felt stressed (the trigger), I would reach for the Jaffa Cakes (the habit). I’d feel “better” because the sugar gave me energy (the reward), but then later regret having eaten more than one. So the problem with these habits is that they become embedded over time and the more we have them, the more we do them and the harder they are to break.
Here’s what might help:
This week, maybe set the intention to Check the Habit. Not all of our habits are bad; we might have a habit of brushing our teeth every morning because we know that’s good for us. See if you can become mindfully aware of why you do what you do, when you do it.
You might start to notice an ‘urge’ to check Facebook, or you have a habit of snoozing the alarm even though you know you need to get up. You might decide to keep a diary over the week to see which ones you notice most (and might want to change) or whether these are healthy for you. You could also keep a note of all the ‘good’ habits you do, especially if you want to do something more often, like go for a run or drink more water. This is where keeping a habit tracker might help; the more you achieve your goals the more your mojo might improve.
Mainly though, remember that it’s natural to slip back in to a habit that doesn’t work for you. The latest research from UCL suggests it takes up to 66 days to form a new habit, so it’s definitely going to take time to break an old one. If you have a “habit” of beating yourself up, it’s probably time to let that one go too.
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© Delphi Ellis 2022