One of the things I do in my counseling practice is help people figure out what positive changes they want to make in their lives. In doing this, we figure out what exactly it is that you want to be doing differently, and why. When we do this, we come up with ways to help you start small and make improvements. This works really well. However, there is another side to this coin. What about bad habits that hold you back from your goals?
Bad Habits Get in the Way
In my personal experience, I’ve developed great ideas about how to improve my circumstances. I’ve mapped things out to small details and figured out what things I wanted to do to make my situation better. I devised specific strategies for things I wanted to start doing differently. However, the problem was that once I had all these great ideas, I felt like I really didn’t have enough time in the day to implement them. But I was wrong. I actually did have time. I was just wasting too much time on activities that wasted time. These were things like spending too much time on youtube, TV, etc.
I had sat down and mapped out the small habits I wanted to add to my daily routine. These were things like cleaning my house as I go about my day (instead of saving it for a few times a week when it’s more time consuming), studying, working out, doing yard work, etc. I knew these would make my overall life better and more fulfilling. What I hadn’t done is take a look at my negative habits that are also getting in the way of establishing the good habits.
Identifying Bad Habits
Take my Youtube habit. I tend to use watching Youtube videos as a break from doing paperwork. I’ll do a little paperwork and then reward myself with a Youtube video about woodworking or something. But one video turns into six videos pretty easy. So when I at first thought I didn’t have enough time in the day to get all my good habits in, I realized I can spend less time watching Youtube videos and more time getting my work done during the day. So, think about what habits you have that hold you back. How much time do you spend on social media or other time wasting activities?
Challenging Your Bad Habits
If you begin paying attention, you may notice that you have several habits that you do to avoid starting the good habits you want to have. When you discover what these are, you can begin to deconstruct them so they happen less. You can become aware of the environmental cues around your home or work place that prompt you to engage in the negative behavior.
Make Bad Habits Harder to Do
If you remember that we only do activities that are easy to do, are motivated to do, and are prompted to do, you can start making it harder to do these behaviors. For example, with my Youtube habit, I decided that just having my laptop in my office is an environmental cue, or prompt, to watch Youtube. I decided to start taking my laptop out to my car during times that I need to focus on doing paperwork in the office. This both removes the environmental prompt (see the laptop and think about Youtube videos) and it made the behavior harder to do. If I really wanted to watch Youtube videos, I’d have to walk out to my car and retrieve it.
Examine Your Motivation to Do Bad Habits
In another example, I decided I wanted to drink more water instead of milk so I could consume fewer calories. So, I changed my kitchen environment. I picked up a clear glass pitcher and filled it with water and lemon slices. I put this pitcher on the top shelf of my refrigerator so it would be right in front of my face when I opened the refrigerator. It worked for a while. I was prompted to reach for the water instead of the juice. But soon I realized I was reaching more for the juice bottles or milk jug instead of the water. What I realized is that drinking the water was harder for me than drinking the juice or milk. Why?
To drink the water, I had to get out the pitcher, get a glass from the cabinet, pour a glass of water, return the pitcher to the refrigerator, and then put the glass in the sink afterward. With the milk or juice, I could grab the jug and drink right from the jug (I’m a batchelor). This is a lot easier and faster. So I realized I needed to make drinking water easier. I cleaned out an empty milk jug and filled it with water and put it where the milk usually sits. This worked well and I’m drinking much more water and much less milk and juice.
So, if you have behaviors that are getting in the way of doing productive behaviors, figure out what the prompts are for doing that behavior. What is making you think about doing the behavior? Is it something visual? Is it some kind of craving that the behavior will satisfy? Can you change your environment so you are cued to do the good behavior and less of the negative ones? Can you make the negative behavior harder to do, or harder to access?
Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan. He provides counseling for couples, teenagers, and adults. He can help with anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, relationship problems, and more. For more information, please visit the website at www.turnaboutcounseling.com.