It’s true that habits are hard to break. I’ve read that it takes 21 days to stop doing something you habitually do, including things like nail biting, smoking and cracking your knuckles.
But what about habits that are not as noticeable to the outside world like worrying, over-planning or complaining? Often considered traits, certain actions or behaviors are more habitual than inherent which means you can reduce how much you do them – or stop them all together.
Just because you know something is bad for you doesn’t mean you won’t do it, an often overlooked fact that leads to self-loathing and even depression. You may hate the fact that you constantly worry about your work or your children yet you continue to do it. This isn’t because you’re weak or a “worry wart”, and it’s not because you can’t control it. It’s simply a habit like many others that you engaged in at some point because you needed to, and now you do it without even thinking.
The first step is to identify how your habit serves you. By this I mean what benefit do you derive from habitually doing something that you know isn’t healthy? For example, worrying helps you bind anxiety and gives you a sense of control over something uncontrollable. When you worry about people or things in your life it feels like you’re taking action even though you’re actually doing nothing about it.
Once you identify how your habit serves you, then you can ask yourself what is lurking beneath it. What is the feeling that you’re trying to avoid? Is it powerlessness, fear or disappointment? We all go to great lengths to avoid feeling things we don’t want to feel, and one way to do that is to distract from the feeling by using habits like overworking, obsessing and even making jokes.
Lastly you can work on breaking your habit by picking a healthier distraction. Once you identify the feeling you can acknowledge it, honor it and do one thing that allows you to appease it. If you’re worrying about your child who has just gone off to college take a moment to check in. Instead of worrying and wondering just reach out to confirm that all is okay.
Habits are both good and bad, and sometimes even well intended habits can be destructive. Do a habit inventory to see where you can improve and then work through each one as needed.
Dr. Andra Brosh August 11th, 2016