Habits and How to Change Them

New Flash:  Habits don’t respond to Will Power.  I hope this news isn’t too distressing for you.  It’s more likely that you are breathing a sigh of relief, because your will power never was very good, and at least you don’t have to blame yourself for having no will power, since it doesn’t help change habits!

Will power implies a kind of force that you can apply to resist a force that you want out of your life.  It’s a power struggle and doomed to fail.  In order to change a habit, lets understand where habits come from.

Habits are acquired.  We learn them from our parents, our family, our peers, the media, and more.  This is good news, because it means that we weren’t born with nasty habits, and if we learned them, we can unlearn them.

Many times, habits (both the useful and harmful ones) are on “auto-pilot”.  This means that they operate below the level of conscious awareness.  I am still struggling with bringing in my reusable market bags to the grocery store, because my habit for years has been to walk into the store and get my groceries packed into the plastic bags provided.  I am working on being mindful to place my market bags in the front seat, where I will notice them when I get out to buy groceries.  On the other hand, my automatic driving skills come in handy when a car stops suddenly in traffic and my foot instantly hits the brake pedal without having to think about it.

Here is a basic strategy for habit change.

  1. Become very aware of the habit you intend to change.
  2. Become mindful of the habit each time it begins and use self-hypnosis to interrupt the “autopilot” nature of the habit, creating a non-reactive mental space in which the habit can be addressed and transformed with compassion, exploration, and a desire to understand without emotional reactivity.  You now have other options beyond the habit.
  3. Third, through mindfulness you know that each time you interrupt your habit with self-hypnosis for mindfulness you are making a conscious choice for change.

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