Good Thursday, everyone!
“Habits are safer than rules; you don’t have to watch them. And you don’t have to keep them, either. They keep you.” –Frank Crane
Do you sometimes feel helpless? Like there’s something nagging at you, keeping you from feeling fully in-control of your life? Or, do you sometimes think that happiness lies beyond your reach, but, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t place your finger on what it is that prevents you from finding it?
When was the last time you took a good, hard, honest look at your habits?
I’d be willing to bet that some of you just flinched a little. Personal habits are a pretty sensitive topic for discussion. Recognition of our worst habits can elicit deep-seated feeling of shame, resentment, and, even, self-hate. But, coming face-to-face with our inner demons can also produce the most miraculous and revolutionary changes.
That said, I will do my very best to remain sensitive in my treatment of this rather intimate and tender subject throughout the remainder of this post. Because I, too, have felt the shame that comes with acknowledging bad habits. And, in the process, wasted tremendous amounts of energy fighting the voice inside of me that pleaded with me, relentlessly, to change them.
“Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables.” –Spanish Proverb
Do you have bad habits that you’d rather not think about? Because, when you do, they make you feel guilty, embarrassed, or out-of-control? Or have they become so much a part of your daily routine–of who you are and how you envision yourself–that you’ve simply grown to accept them as a part of life, as natural as blinking, swallowing, or breathing?
Maybe it’s a smoking, drinking, or drug habit. Or, maybe you have an unhealthy relationship with food, binging or purging during times of intense emotional stress.
Perhaps you’ve even rationalized these behaviors, telling yourself that you eat more than your body needs because you like the taste of food–and who doesn’t? Or that you drink excessively because you enjoy the taste of beer or wine, and after all, you are enjoying yourself, aren’t you? You’re having fun! Celebrating life! It may not be the best for you, but come on, we’ve all got to die from something!
What’s most interesting to me about bad habits is how easy they are to form, how quickly and insidiously they take root. And how difficult they are to break. For me, smoking, although, on its surface, the worst health habit I had acquired, was the easiest to quit. But, don’t mistake me, I had an extremely difficult time quitting smoking. I tried many, many times over the course of years to rid my body of its nicotine addiction. If quitting smoking was so difficult and took such a tremendous amount of time and effort, then why do I say it was the easiest habit to drop?
Because I knew it was bad for me. And it was easy for me to admit, both to myself and to others, that I needed to quit smoking. I mean, even the Surgeon General said as much. Right on the side of my cigarette pack. If I kept smoking, it will probably kill me.
The more difficult habits to leave behind, I think, are those that are the hardest to address, often because it is less socially acceptable to do so. As a result, we often end up suffering, by our own hand, in silence.
We all know smoking is bad for our health. It’s even becoming socially undesirable. But, let’s consider alcohol use and overeating, shall we?
I would argue that these are two of the most socially-acceptable bad habits we have. They’re the easiest to develop. And the hardest to get rid of, if, in fact, we reach a point at which we feel they’ve become self-destructive parts of our lives.
Have you ever had to much to drink, woke up the next morning, and felt guilty for what you’d done? To be clear, I’m not talking as much about the occasional weekend cocktail, or two, with friends as I am addressing more frequent, excessive alcohol use. Maybe you went out for happy hour a few too many nights in a row. Or had a rough week at work. Or, maybe you even had cause to celebrate! A friend’s wedding, a job promotion, or a vacation. I mean, alcohol use is a natural part of these types of events, right? It’s what gets us through. It’s what we are supposed to do. Plus, it’s what everyone else is doing. And they all look like they’re enjoying themselves.
So, why aren’t you? Why is there some small part of you that’s telling you to put your drink down and call it a night, so you can wake up tomorrow feeling well-rested? Not beaten up.
Now, here comes the really difficult part. Do you put the drink down? Or do you have another, which is sure to silence that pesky little voice inside your head? I mean, if you quit early, you might get made fun of. Told you don’t know how to have a good time. Laughed at because you can’t handle your liquor. Like you’re not tough enough. Or worse–and I’ve heard this a million times–someone might call you a “p___y.” (I won’t write out the word because it happens to be one of my least favorite in the English language, and I don’t like using vulgarities on my blogs. But, I’m certain you get the idea.)
And what of overeating? I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain the socially-sanctioned components of this one, do I? The enormous portion sizes we’re served at restaurants. The high-calorie, high-fat foods, like most meats and cheeses, we are taught to consume in large quantities with every meal, everyday.
But, it’s not socially-acceptable to appear overweight or obese, is it? We are supposed to have discipline, aren’t we? Which can make it all the more difficult for us to be honest with ourselves about the nature of our worst habits. It is easy to feel like a failure when you can’t measure up to someone else’s paradoxical, or even impossible, standards. Or when, deep down, you might want to divest yourself of a habit that is considered “popular.” And give up a practice that is not only socially-condoned. It is encouraged.
So, what can we do when faced with such dilemmas? When our bodies and our consciences are screaming at us to take a well-deserved look at our worst habits and change them for good?
“Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” –Mark Twain
1.) Be honest with yourself first. I firmly believe that, if we can do this, we can divest ourselves of any vices we choose. Because this step is the hardest part. The moment we look at ourselves in the mirror and admit that we don’t like what we see. And that a some of the things we don’t like are direct results of our own bad habits. Which means that responsibility for changing them is our own. Believe it or not, this is actually terrific news! That moment of recognition and acknowledgment, however painful it may be, is also an opportunity to take control. Because our habits can enslave us. Fortunately, the power lies within each of us to break free. And that is a tremendous thing!
2.) Replace bad habits with good habits! As Mark Twain so eloquently reminds us, our habits don’t disappear overnight. And replacing bad behaviors with good ones can be great strategy for leaving the bad behind. Thinking of quitting smoking? Start an exercise program. It won’t be long before you’d rather run an extra mile than smoke that extra cigarette. Trying to rid yourself of a late-night eating habit? Walk in the evenings instead of sitting in front of the television. Are you drinking a bit too much because you’re stressed, or even bored? Explore a new hobby that interests you, and change your routine for the better!
3.) Above all, be kind to yourself. I’m pretty sure there isn’t, and never was, a human being on this earth without a bad habit or two. Yep, we’ve all got ‘em, whether we’re willing to admit it or not. So, don’t get down on yourself. And please, please, don’t beat yourself up! Self-improvement is a process–a lifelong process, in fact, should we choose to view it as such. It takes time. To even embark on such a journey takes courage–and you have it! Remember that. In order to be well, you have to treat yourself well first.