October has fast become known as the month of abstinence. The modern Lent, Stoptober is a movement that encourages people to undertake a healthier lifestyle for just one month, thus showing that they have the potential to quit for good.
You don’t have to wait for Stoptober to test your self-discipline muscles. You can set yourself a challenge, such as breaking a bad habit or undertaking a new beneficial one, at any time. Think about who you want to be; do you want to be a slave to nicotine or booze, or do you want to be in control? The truth is, you are in control, YOU just have to believe it.
A good therapist can help you to understand the patterns, associations and attachments you have with your bad habit. This information is powerful because it will be unique to you and can help you to untangle the motivations behind your unhealthy habit. Knowledge is power – if you really want to reset and get back to your natural, habit free state you most certainly will with the benefit of such knowledge; without the pains of having to rely on willpower alone.
As a therapist, when it comes to habit breaking, time and time again I have seen people struggle – not so much with the abstinence itself, but with the feeling of the hole it leaves behind. This is exactly why willpower alone simply won’t work. Inevitably you crave the mechanism that your brain believes is helping you, created by an association and repetitious behaviour. When thoughts or behaviours (in the case of habits, both) are repeated and neurological pathways are strengthened until the habit becomes a very natural part of your daily life. So it can feel weird, uncomfortable or even scary to let go of this coping strategy and embrace the hole it leaves behind. Good news is that really there is no hole; there was always a time before where you did not have this habit, but you will have squeezed it in somehow, for any number of reasons. Breaking a bad habit creates space for your mind and body. Embracing those spaces can revolutionise your life and you as a human being; the people who quit for good are the ones that understand this and embrace it.
Many habits are formed out of insecurity, of some sort. You wanted to fit in, or were stressed and didn’t know what to do etc. etc. Find the root and you’ll likely find the beginning of the cure. The point is that the habit started because it helped you feel better once and your brain said “I want more of that please” releasing chemicals such as dopamine to ensure you’ll get the message to do it again and again. There are thousands of years of evolution and chemical influences behind what you have been doing. Finding it difficult to kick a habit does not make you weak, falling off the wagon and getting back on it again actually makes you strong.
Habit breaking is about feeling good, secure, confident, (insert feeling) etc. without the unhealthy strategy that has been adopted. Feeling good involves being kind to yourself. Once you understand why you smoke, for example, aside from the chemical influences in the brain and substance, you can begin to put strategies in place that will empower you to learn to live without the habit. If you are a drinker who drinks when stressed, have a look at what causes you stress. Next you can make other choices instead, for example a daily run or weekly massage might help lower your stress levels – forming new neurological pathways and ways of coping with what life throws at you.
Habit forming is a natural part of our survival. Problems only arise when the habit has a negative impact on you or others around you. It’s never too late to change and it’s always brave to ask for help. Don’t suffer in silence and you too can learn to embrace your freedom.