How to deal with bad habits
Bad habits are something many people struggle with (including me). It can be a constant tug of war to get over them. To assist you in this journey, there IS a lot of valuable advice out there. Such as Atomic Habits, The Power of Habit and WOOP.
Practical advice is undoubtedly helpful. The thing is, you aren’t rational 100% of the time – you’re emotional, too. Plus there’s stuff in the subconscious that exerts a subliminal influence as well.
What can you do, then? Well, so much information is already available for you to choose from. Based on what I’ve learned along the way as a practitioner and coach, I’ll also share some of my suggestions. I hope they may offer some alternative insights!
Understand context and frames
Context provides the mind with a framework to organize information. With it, the mind can comprehend situations and give you reference points. Without it, information would be stored randomly and the right reference points might not be available when you need it.
Frames are the way you perceive the world. They’re the stories you tell yourself and others to explain a situation or present yourself. Frames are also changeable. If and when you decide to change a frame, you really can.
How does this relate to habits? Context and frames both affect motivation.
You can have external contexts, like the people you socialize with or your work environment. Personal contexts could relate to your age, gender, education, career, role, life path, personal goals, etc. Depending on the frame you have of a situation, you can either feel strong negative emotions and deplete your own energy, or feel more positive emotions and boost it.
What context and frame are you using now?
Let’s look at the context of your bad habits right now.
What scenario triggers your habits? Is it an emotion or feeling: bored, tired, depressed, stressed, anxious, angry, upset? A want: lift your mood, comfort yourself, avoid facing bigger problems, tasks, responsibilities?
Now let’s look at your frame – the reason why you do those habits.
Is it because they’re easy to do in the moment? They require less time and effort? It worked the last time you did it? Don’t feel like you deserve to put yourself first?
How do you feel about those habits?
Is there a negative judgement about yourself for doing them? Like you’re too lazy, lack discipline, don’t think you’re capable of change, see your habits as character faults? Or about the situation: it’s no use because your environment is not conducive to change, you might lose friends, no one supports you?
What if the context and frame at work here is this:
“I use (bad habit) whenever I feel (emotion/want) because of (reason) and I’m/it’s (negative judgement) to do otherwise.”
This probably doesn’t help you feel good about yourself or your habits and it hurts your motivation to change.
Do a reframe for bad habits
So it might help yourself to have a new frame. What if you reframed your habits this way?
My “bad” habit was actually an attempt at self care. I wanted to feel better, quickly. So I turned to the handiest strategy I could find in the moment. Now that I know I want to do things differently, I have it in me change.
How does that sit with you? If you don’t resonate with the reframe above, you can always create a different one that works.
A good reframe doesn’t make you feel stressed, tense, deflated or drained. It should make you feel supported, acknowledged and hopefully energized! (Without mollycoddling yourself, of course.)
Eg: I didn’t think my habits were a problem at the time, but now I think differently. This is a sign I’ve grown as a person and it’s a good thing. I want to honor this new me.
What do you really want? Is any resistance present?
Let’s say what you’re after is self care or growth – your new context. Now is a good opportunity to look deeper and notice what else is present.
Maybe what you really want is more intellectual stimulation. Connection with people or a sense of purpose. Help and support. Confidence and empowerment. Recognition and acknowledgement. Or rest and restoration. These are some possible deeper needs that underlie the boredom, fatigue, depression, anxiety, stress, anger, etc.
Do any negative feelings rise up when you think about fulfilling those deeper needs properly? Because it’s true, extra effort may be required. A few obstacles might need to be overcome. Some people might say things. And so on.
Behind those feelings could be negative beliefs about yourself, people or situations. You might have strong negative emotions about past experiences when you couldn’t meet your needs.
This becomes a pain point and it can create internal resistance. So those points need to be cleared.
Clear your resistance with energy work
Yes, I know. It’s inevitable I’m going to suggest using energy work to clear pain points because I’m a practitioner. Yet, energy clearing does facilitate things. It still amazes me every time I see it happen.
The benefit of energy clearing is that it can help move those pain points out of the way so you have more mental bandwidth to do what you need to do. It’s like clearing boulders from the path in front of you so it’s easier to travel.
Why not use these tools to your advantage then, so you can refocus your energies on creating new habits instead of wrestling with internal resistance?
But MAP isn’t the only option. There are many other types of good energy work out there. It would certainly help to experiment and see what works best for you.
What else can you to do besides energy work?
To shift internal resistance, here are some other things you can do along with energy work:
- Find your “why”: the big, juicy reason why you want to change your habit in the first place!
- Identify what the internal resistance is about through automatic writing, meditation or parts work.
- Shift your energy with embodiment exercises, mindful breathing, visualizations, etc.
- Use affirmations and reframes to change your mindset and create a new habit to replace the old one.
- Set up your environment and routines so there are fewer opportunities for your bad habits to get “activated”.
- Find an accountability partner if that helps you stay on track.
If you’re a person who likes self exploration and doesn’t want to be reliant on someone to provide energy clearing, these methods are also very effective on their own.
Context for change: it’s a process
As you work on changing your habits, it helps to have a context for change too, to keep things in perspective. Although you might expect everything to sort of fall into place once you choose to change, there are actually six stages:
Figure: Stages of Change (Prochaska, DiClemente & Norcross, 1992)
So it’s not crazy if you find yourself waffling before you even decide to commit to change. Falling, picking yourself up and trying again is also par for the course. But with each cycle, you’re growing gradually upwards.
How can you tell if you’re moving up? Try asking yourself this question: No matter how small, what is one good thing I learned from making this change, that I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t do anything?
Hopefully you’ll make some positive discoveries! If your answer is “nothing”, then examine why you said so.
The brain does indeed have a negativity bias. Is it possible you’re putting a negative slant on things? If so, can one or more of those reasons be reframed in a positive light? Try that and see how you feel now.
The key takeaways
To change bad habits, it helps to find a context and a frame that works for you, rather than against you. Such as self care or growth.
Find out what it is you really want and also notice what resistance is there. Address that resistance with energy clearing or self exploration. That will clear the path towards getting your deeper needs fulfilled.
It also helps to keep in mind that change is a process. So be gentle with yourself. Check in once in a while to see how far you’ve come. You might be pleasantly surprised!
I hope this exploration of how to deal with bad habits is helpful! If you have any questions or thoughts you’d like to share, please feel free to send me a message from below!