Moving from wanting to change to actually doing so can be a challenge because the repetition of any pattern of behavior establishes neural circuits in the brain. Habits generate biochemical and physiological changes that perpetuate behavior. However, it is possible to break a habit when you address the emotional and physical aspects behind it.
Here is a powerful six-step process that can help you succeed:
Step One: Identify the Obstacle
To relinquish an unwanted habit, you have to acknowledge it by bringing it into conscious awareness. Take a few moments to identify a behavior that is getting in the way of your health and happiness. Close your eyes and ask yourself "What do I really want to change?"
Step Two: Present Moment Awareness
When you engage in the habit, do it with your full attention. If you smoke cigarettes, for example, do it mindfully. Stop whatever else you're doing and connect with your inner observer. As you smoke (or drink, shop, overeat, or lose your temper) notice the sensations in your body, the thoughts in your mind, and let go of all judgments.
Step Three: Envision the New
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and envision the change you want to make. If your goal is to eat healthier, envision yourself getting rid of all the junk food in your house, buying fresh, organic ingredients, and preparing them in your kitchen. Create the new script in your mind and write it down. Read it each day, making revisions that improve the story.
Step Four: Clear the Space
Set a date for ending the habit. Whether you're withdrawing from a toxic relationship, job, or substance, the first three days are usually the most challenging. Start on a Saturday morning so you'll have the weekend to focus on the changes you want to make. Remove all temptations from your environment, and for the next 72 hours, simplify your life as much as possible.
A few suggestions for your weekend retreat:
- Drink gingerroot herbal tea, a natural detoxifier.
- Nourish your senses: Perform a self-abhy massage, take a yoga class, or hike in a beautiful area.
- Declare a “global detoxification” weekend. Wash your car, clean out drawers, and get rid of old clothing and anything that’s no longer serving your needs.
Step Five: Filling the Void
Habits fill deep-seated needs, so when you drop an unwanted behavior, you need to replace it with a nourishing one. Instead of “winding down” in the evening with a beer or hours of television, practice meditation or yoga. Schedule a regular afternoon exercise time rather than releasing frustration by yelling at your kids or co-workers. The key is finding an activity that provides sustainable comfort that takes the place of the temporary relief your old habit provided.
Step Six: Surround Yourself with Healthy People
You may need to put some distance between yourself and those who continue to engage in the habit you are quitting. For example, if you want to end a pattern of workaholism, seek out people who have found a measure of work-life balance; you'll likely be influenced by their healthier approach.