A picture of a full ashtray, a habit that needs to be broken

Change Your Habits, Change Your Self

Are you chronically late? Constantly being apologetic? Compulsively shopping? Or maybe you are in a toxic relationship with … sugar? 

We all have some habits we wish to change or eliminate entirely.

Unfortunately, the answer is not always about merely tweaking a habit or two, but by changing your whole self. That is, you need to change the system around the habits so they have no power over you.

A habit is any routine or behavior you do repeatedly. Many are automatic. They are neither necessarily positive or negative, they just … happen. For each there is a trigger and a reward. Again, neither positive or negative, these triggers and rewards just exist invisibly below the surface. But you can see them if you look hard enough. 

The first step in making a change is to identify the undesirable behavior.

What is the behavior? How is it triggered? What reward do you get from it?

If you are a compulsive online shopper, consider what drives you to the computer to shop in the first place. Is there something you are avoiding? Then, what do you get from it? Often it isn’t just what you buy but something even deeper. Do you boast about your purchases? Do you love how you will look in the clothing? Or do you imagine that THIS is the book that will change you forever? 


Develop strong boundaries

One way to break this habit is to develop a new identity that does away with the triggers and rewards that prompt the habit.

A picture of a full ashtray, a habit that needs to be broken
You can change even the most destructive habit. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Many times when people try to change, they fail to set strong boundaries around their new habits and processes. 

Sugar habit? Tell your friends and family you are trying to quit, and enlist them in helping. Imagine if at the next party, NO ONE brings a tempting sugary dessert. You don’t even have to struggle, because your boundary keeps the temptation away.

You actually win in changing this habit BEFORE temptation can get at you.


Align habits with true desires

When visioning your future self without the habit you are trying to change, you need to picture your perfect or intended future self.

Here the trick is to follow your heart and see how habits align with your true passions. 

As much as possible, try to align your new goal not just with a temporary desire to change, but with a vision of your future self that you fall in love with.

If you’re having trouble studying for your nursing school exam, it might not be because of the kids or social media. It might be because you have not yet fallen in love with yourself as a nurse. Learning to envision this future version of yourself will help make the distractions less tempting. After all, you’ve got a future to build!


21 days of concentrated effort

In her book Badass Habits, Jen Sincero discusses these habits and steps for doing it. She explains that it doesn’t take years to become a new self.

In fact, it might happen as quickly as 21 days. Here’s how:

  • Develop a mantra that focuses you
  • Keep track of your progress
  • Give yourself rewards for each win (something positive, don’t backslide!)
  • Take steps to eliminate triggers
  • Plan for success by making it easy to keep up the momentum
  • Remind yourself of your wins
  • If you make a mistake, get back up and keep going

When you scroll back through your social media feed, you see wins and losses as well.

Use these as motivation.

Don’t delete the bad moments. Instead, remember them. You are not working to become perfect, you are working to get better.

In addition to falling in love with the future version of yourself that you are working toward, you should also make a compassionate space for the person you were before. Both of them are flawed people, worthy of your love. 

Don’t overlook the important things in your life – friends, hobbies, fun should not be sacrificed. Instead they should be incorporated in your new habits.

Become more of your best and authentic self. Forgive your foibles, laugh at funny things, and accept your quirks that make you unique.

Treat yourself with compassion.

Do you have a challenging relationship problem that is costing you sleep, or robbing you of your sense of independence? You likely will benefit from talking to a licensed therapist like Sakina Issa.

Luckily, these conversations can happen discreetly and by appointment using the same tools you have grown comfortable using at work, like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Just click the button in the upper right hand corner.

Want to learn more about parenting or managing tricky sibling relations? Maybe you are working out a new set of goals for yourself?

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