The Cure for Bad Habits
Bad habits are like your dog. Faithfully attached. Painful to give up.
You can’t give them up easily. You try and try and curse yourself for having them and then you walk away one day and then they sneak right back in when you were sleeping. How frustrating.
The trick I think is to not hate them but to love them and feel better for having them first. Then forming a system to remove them slowly and then suddenly.
Let's say we can’t quit smoking.
So instead of hating yourself for smoking, try to do the opposite. Love that you have a habit. Feel extremely satisfied to know that you have a thing that you can’t live without. In doing so you start to first start liking who you are. Enjoy the feeling of being at ease. Feel like your smoking is the best thing that you can share with the world. Complement yourself for being a smoker. Every time you light up, pat yourself on the back.
As you do this start to notice the habit. It's something you love so you have to pay attention as you would do to anything else you love. Start to notice the moment it comes into your mind. Was it there the moment you woke up? Or did it appear when you started making the coffee…does it show up when you are relaxed or stressed? Did you remember its birthday or anniversary?
Keep a diary dedicated to the bad habit. Make a habit of keeping track of your smoking urges, frequency and emotions. Write about it. Write to it. Write for it. This diary is your love letters to the habit. Daily. The diary should keep a log of every cigarette you smoke. It’s ideal if it was a digital diary. When you smoke, take a selfie. Add an emoji to each picture that says how much you love yourself for being a smoker.
Calculate the cost of the habit. Just add up the cost of the habit. How much do you spend on it in a week/month/year? Write it down in your diary. Calculate how much it costs you to keep the habit going. Just do it. You will be surprised to see the number. But just do it and log it. What you are doing is collecting evidence. You are shedding light on your hidden weakness.
You are collecting evidence for your brain to see your habit. Bad habits persist because we hide them for the one person who needs to see them the most — ourselves.
Hide it from ourselves? what do you mean I hear you asking…I do it. It’s my habit. How can I hide it? Well, we do hide it. We hide from looking at it in the eye for the shame and pain we attach to having that habit. We indulge in the habit like love- blindly.
Let’s move for a moment to your attic. Or any dark corner of your place that you don’t frequent much. Could be your garden, garage, office drawer, filing cabinet. You pick your spot. These are the scary places in your life. Places you have parked things that you don’t want to look at because of what you might find. You have neglected them because you feel crap about the responsibility that hides in them. Therefore they stay closed, hidden, in the dark. Out of the light of your attention. Instead, if you open yourself to using your attention; it has a wonderful power that we all have to clear the cobwebs of our life.
Attention is that unattached, loving, alert, focussed energy inside us that just wants to observe without making any judgments of what is being observed.
It's the energy that looks without criticizing. It looks at things and people without looking to shame them for their flaws. It just looks.
Back to our smoking habit. So far we have declared our love for it. Kept a love diary of all its movements and emotions within us. We have even made a budget for how we will fund its care.
Now shed the light of this loving attention on what you have collected. Look at this record as a pattern of energy that you wish you let go of. It’s the rust you wish to remove from your favorite chair. Starting now, you wish to make room for a new habit that can replace this old habit that you don’t need anymore.
That now becomes your new love goal. Now, this is an important and difficult goal you have set for yourself. But it’s a worthy goal because it is born from loving attention that you have gifted to yourself.
The goal now is to start a new habit. Not stop smoking. The goal is to be free of the emotional need for cigarettes. You are deciding to start be become free of an old love that does not love you anymore. You are letting go.
To help you achieve this you will need a few things.
In the short term, you will need a system that fills up the space that the old habit creates. The best way to change a habit is to replace it with a new one. You can’t hold two thoughts at the same time in your mind. Every time you have a thought that triggers your old habit you have to replace it with another thought that is the new habit.
So what could fill that old hole?
Find something that you could offer your mind and body that would help it heal. So for example, offer the body something nonalcoholic to drink every time you feel the urge; or offer the body some chewing gum; or some food; or some quiet breathing and focussed meditation at the toughest moments.
Take away the triggers that remind you of your love. Like all bad breakups, the memory is worse than the pain of actually walking away. Let go of the triggers that you know revive the urge to smoke. If in your love diary you notice that you smoke when you drink, don’t drink for a few weeks until the memory grooves have been filled up. Don’t spend time with friends that smoke and remind you to have that one drag.
It’s a long love story. It will be hard and it will take a bit of time. But you will become free. Forever. Because you have the power of a freedom-seeking goal; a system that supports that worthy goal and the light of loving attention that you shower on this goal daily. It’s just a habit. Love it first and stop feeling bad and calling it bad. The rest will unfold.