Do you ever tell yourself that you could cut down on your coffee, cigarettes or drinking tomorrow if you really wanted to. They’re only habits after all. But try to nudge them out of your life and you might find that even the most innocent of habits is more deeply rooted than you think.
Behind the scenes of even the simplest of routines, you can find a tenacious network of physical, emotional and psychological influences holding your behaviour in place.
Fear of change, comfort derived from the familiar, early childhood conditioning, and the physically addictive effects of substances such as nicotine, caffeine, alcohol and other drugs, are just a few. Look even closer and you’re likely to find your habit plugging the hole of some emotional or psychological need.
That’s why effective behavioural change programs begin, not by trying to change your behaviour, but by increasing your awareness of the triggers for your behaviour.
“I became aware that I was using marijuana to stop myself from feeling hurt, pain and sadness, things I didn’t want to feel,” says 40 year old John, who first started smoking marijuana at 15.
No wonder old habits die hard. Remove the habit and you come face to face with your raw needs that you must now address head on. “When I get the urge, I now stop and breathe deeply and open up to what I’m feeling,” says John. “I’ve learnt that it’s OK to feel hurt and scared and how to express that. Meditation also helps.”
Self-awareness helps us better understand the needs that drive our habits. In some cases, awareness alone is enough to prompt lasting and freely chosen change.
“For about two years I practiced noticing the effects coffee was having on me,” says psychologist Sarah, a regular coffee drinker for eight years. “I didn’t want to push myself to give up through will power – it’s too much effort and doesn’t work,” she says. “I became a lot more aware of how coffee was draining my energy levels and stressing my heart. And I began to dislike the fact that I no longer had choice, and that my caffeine-induced euphoria and racy thinking was artificial.”
This gradual increase in awareness strengthened the case against coffee to the point where it finally tipped. “I just said ‘that’s it now.’ It hasn’t been difficult because I didn’t rely on willpower and took the process very slowly. It’s a great feeling that I don’t have to have coffee, it’s not an addiction any more.”
So if you’re concerned that you don’t have the willpower to break your habit, don’t worry, change is as much about skill as it is about will. Develop the practice of observing and monitoring your habit, and you’ll be well on the way to regaining some control.
If you’d like to start increasing your awareness now, you can download a behaviour tracker here.
If you are struggling with your health habits and could do with some professional support and guidance consider my Introductory Wellbeing Coaching Package.