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How To Change A Bad Habit

We have all wished we could simply rid ourselves of some challenging habit. Perhaps it has to do with troubling eating habits, procrastination pertaining to work or failing to follow through on important resolutions. Whatever your “stuck point” seems to be, breaking an entrenched habit is important.

Changing a habit is harder than we might think...
Letting go of a long-term pattern of behavior can be difficult at best, nearly impossible at worst. Someone has said “You make the habit and the habit makes you,” meaning — once a habit is entrenched, whether positive or negative, it becomes part of you. It is second nature and that is why it takes particular focus to let go of a habit that you’ve clung to, and has clung to you, for some time.

On the positive side, once you’ve created a new habit, that habit makes a new you. This new manner of being becomes the new you. No more working to try to create a new way of being — it has become second nature. Getting there, however, is the hard part.

Thankfully, we can break old habits. Scripture tells us that this is, in part, a spiritual battle. The Apostle Paul said, “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4: 22-24)

Becky, a 30-year-old woman, approached me recently with a desire to interact with her husband in a healthier manner. Becky hadn’t reached this insight entirely on her own — her husband had separated temporarily, insisting on change before he came back home.

“I know I need to change,” she said to me tearfully over the phone. “I didn’t realize I was so critical until my husband told me that was why he was leaving.”

“Had you not seen this behavior in yourself before?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said. “Of course, I knew I could be controlling. I run an office at work and manage our children and home. All of that requires coordination and to a certain extent, control. I never really considered the impact on my husband. Now it might be too late.”

“I suspect that it is not too late,” I said encouragingly. “Your husband is still interacting with you about the kids and besides, he is telling you why he left. You likely have a chance to change your habits. Awareness of what needs to change is the first step.”

“That’s good to hear,” she said. “How do we begin?”

Here are some additional steps I shared with Becky and will be good for you to consider as well if you’re trying to form new, healthy habits:

First, determine what habit you want to change. While this may seem obvious, we don’t change anything we haven’t identified as a problem or something we really want to change. Consider what would happen if you did not change this habit. Specify exactly what you want to change and how you will change.

Second, clarify why, with conviction, you want to change the habit. We must have conviction that something needs changing. We must have a heart-change, leading to an attitude change, before we have a behavior change. Conviction is the fuel that drives the engine of change.

Third, outline steps for forming the new habit. Begin with small, attainable steps, that can be built upon, leading to your eventual goal. You must establish new routines that lead you to your new goals. Someone has said “Your reach must always exceed your grasp if you are going to keep growing.” While this is true, ensure you always have attainable steps in front of you.

Fourth, prepare for obstacles to change. With every new habit we wish to form will come obstacles. Whether it is simply the daily obstacles of life, major life events or your old behavior patterns, something is bound to interfere with your new goals. Plan for them, prepare for them and have a new plan of attack to overcome them.

Finally, celebrate small and large victories. You must celebrate your victories. You must notice the small, positive changes on your path to your ultimate victories. Pay close attention to the rewards of reaching your goals and give yourself affirmations for hard work.

Becky worked hard to change her habit of being critical of her husband and is on her way to reconciling with him. She defined the changes she needed to make — ending her critical attitude — defined a path to change and certainly had the conviction needed to change. She has, step by step, changed some destructive behaviors that severely impacted her marriage and replaced them with healthier ones.

[written by Dr. David B. Hawkins