Scallywag

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.

~ Dalai Lama ~

Don’t Whack Your Habits

August 21st, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 1 min, 41 secs

Even sticking your tongue out can become a habit.

Even sticking your tongue out can become a habit.

There’s more to habits than meets the eye. While we’ve been told ever since we were knee high to “stop doing that”, it’s harder to do than it looks.

For starters, regular Happy.fm readers will know saying “don’t” do this or that is next to useless anyway. Beside which, we all know (only too well from personal experience) that bad habits are also incredibly resistant to change.

Telling a child to stop spitting or doing the snottish drawback might make you feel like you have conquered the problem. But that’s never going to do the trick.

Habits not only draw power from repetition and reward to confirm them, they even get energy from us resisting them. That means the more we will ourselves to stop a habit from happening, the greater our internal focus becomes.

Inevitably, that focus converts back into repeating the habit, making us feel guilty, annoyed, and potentially, despairing.

But you don’t need to do that and, better yet, you can whack your habits. However, the answer lies not in trying to fight your habits but adding to them.

By adding a fresh habit, which you do like, your energy flows in a new direction. This starves your old habit of attention and, if the fresh behavior gives you enough pleasure, you can expect it will take over.

That’s what happened when I decided one day that biting my nails was a habit I wanted to stop. Thinking about how bad it was motivated me to think of alternatives and that’s when I realized I actually like trimming my nails.

With 2 weeks a lifetime habit began vanishing. Preferring to clip my fingernails felt better than biting them any day. So that’s how I let go of an unwanted habit without even trying to stop it.

Now, clearly, it’s true not all habits vanish that easily, do they? Yet adding a new habit can and does help (even if to form part of a range of measures to stop something entrenched like smoking, or excessive drinking).

In the end, you need to experiment and find out what your particular approach will be to get the results you want to achieve. Habits can be broken. But it always makes sense to fill the space they take with something eminently and pleasurably better.

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