How to break bad habits and fight urges
One of the biggest things that people struggle with when it comes to getting and staying healthy is overcoming bad habits. We all know the drill. We discover a new diet or have an event coming up that gives us a boost of motivation. For a few days or weeks this motivation provides us with the willpower we need in order to abstain from bad habits. But then, the event passes or motivation is lost and the bad habits creep up and overwhelm us. This then results in shame, disappointment and the undoing of hours, days or weeks of “strong willpower.”
This cycle is continuous and it will always be so unless you actually shift the “bad habit” instead of just relying on willpower.
Quickly, I want to clarify what a bad habit is. Enjoying a glass of wine, a piece of chocolate or sleeping in on the weekend are not bad habits if you are consciously deciding to do those things with your own free will and they do not bring you shame. It is only a bad habit if you are acting on them because of a sudden urge that you feel deep within is wrong. For example, every night you may get a strong, sudden urge that you need sugar, you get an uncomfortable pit in your stomach, your brain is simultaneously telling you it’s not a good idea but you act anyway, then you feel regretful afterward.
Do you see the difference? It’s not bad to enjoy sweets (or whatever the thing is) but it’s bad if it goes against what you truly want and your authentic self.
So, what can you do to break a habit and fight the powerful, scary urges?
Understand that urges are NOT powerful or scary. They are just simply thoughts. They carry no power. They cannot make you do anything. When you get an urge to do something “bad” begin to see it as just another thought that comes up, one of the many you’ve had that day. Just because you have a thought, does not mean you have to act on it. Imagine if you were to act on the many thoughts you have each day- not only would it be impossible but our lives would be absolute chaos.
When an urge comes on, it can be very strong. You can even have a physical reaction that is quite uncomfortable (anxiety, pit in the stomach, heebie-jeebies) And, the only way you’ve known how to relive that uncomfortable feeling is to give into the urge. Well, over time your mind and body has gotten so used to you giving into that urge, it may feel like it’s the only option. However, it is not. When the urge comes on, do not try to ignore it or distract yourself (That’s willpower and that may work sometimes but not longterm). Approach the urge. Pause to C L E A R your mind. Then, dismiss it. Like any other thought, it will fade and pass.
The more you pause and dismiss the urge to do the bad habit, the less frequent and powerful the urges will feel. They may certainly pop up again- and that’s ok. Because you have the power- the urge does not. Again, it is only a thought and a thought cannot make you do anything- you have to act upon it.
The Pause and Mind Clearing- This is incredibly important. When an urge comes on, it can fog your mind and you will probably even hear a voice bargaining with you, telling you that it’s ok to give in. Your mind and body gets overwhelmed and so you make a decision that’s not based on a clear mind. That is why the pause is so important. Let the dust settle for a moment and then make the rational decision when your mind is clear. Most of the time this clarity comes after we have done the habit. (that’s when the shame and promise we will do better tomorrow comes) With this pause, you will be clearing your mind before you act on anything. Even if after you pause and clear your mind and you still decided to pop that pimple, chew your nails, eat another cupcake- you will at least be making a decision with your own free will and not based on an urge.
Just want to reiterate that YOU have the power, your thoughts do not. Good, bad, ugly, stressful, dirty, grateful, compassionate thoughts will come through everyday. It’s ok. Don’t be scared of an urge- they will come through. Now you can see them differently and then treat them differently.