Westminster Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
Your guide to a balanced life
A habit is any action that we have performed so often that it becomes almost an involuntary response imbedded in our unconscious mind. If we consider a habit to be undesirable then we may label it a “bad habit”. Our internal labelling or labels picked up from the external world e.g. the media can create anxiety and stress. People spend countless hours and pounds each year attempting to break these bad habits and often without success. Why?
Perhaps you have tried so many different things to tackle your unhealthy habit with a small or unsustainable effect and each time you got knocked back to the square one. Change is uncomfortable and there is no short cut to achieving it. The steps a person needs to take, however, can be very simply outlined. To effect a change in habits, one needs to bring the action back into the realm of consciousness and regain the ability to make choices. It is also vital to address your lifestyle, consider what have you tried, what did work and what didn´t work and take responsibility for your own thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Less often means more.
The first step in breaking a bad habit is to look at why you find this action so compelling. In other words, what are the pros for doing this seemingly negative thing? Since you have already classified this as a “bad” habit you may be tempted to say there is not one. But look closer. There is always a payoff. Let´s say your bad habit is smoking. Perhaps you think that you feel calmer when you smoke or more confident? What´s in it for you?
Next, take a look at the cons. What is it that you are losing by exorcising your habit? This step should be easier. Just think why it is that you consider it an unhealthy habit in the first place. There has to be a better way. Make a list of 10 pros and cons related to smoking. See what the ratio between them is and level of motivation.
Now that you have weighed both sides of the issue–your pros and cons–it´s time to make a choice. It´s no longer an involuntary act because now you know that you are making a choice every time you perform this action. You are choosing what you value more: the pros or the cons! Each time you start to do whatever the unhealthy habit is you now have to actively choose. Which do you value more?
The whole reason you formed your habits in the first place is that they filled a need. You had tension that needed relief. As you break the old patterns you still need a way to fulfil these needs. You will not only be making an active choice to set aside the old action, but you will also be making a positive choice to perform a better, alternative action in the future.
By now you should realise that the only way to continue with a bad habit for very long is to sink back into denial of why you are doing it in the first place. Each time you begin to resume your old patterns the thought will pass through your mind that you are trading X for Y each time you perform that action. What choices will you make? It´s up to you.