Change is a three-pronged process because we are trying to change what we think, how we feel and what we do about our habits. It’s not always easy juggling all three. As thinking, feeling and doing beings, we must explore each one when implementing long-term change in our lives. Our thoughts, feelings and behaviors hold valuable information about the purpose of our habits and the balance of our inner ecosystem.
Ask yourself, “What do I say to myself about my unwanted habit?” Then be honest with yourself and write it down, or tell a friend, turn it into song lyrics, draw a picture. Do it your way! It might be hard to see or hear, but it will help you understand your self-talk. Over time, you develop automatic thoughts or rationalizations about your habits that need to be revisited:
- “I can stop anytime if I want.”
- “I work hard, I deserve this.”
- “I wouldn’t have to yell if my family listened to me.”
- “It will get better once I have less stress going on.”
- “At least I’m not as bad as my cousin.”
- “What will they think of me?”
- “I’ll never be able to stop. This is who I am.”
Ask yourself: “How do I feel about this habit?” Then write it down.
Identifying how you feel will be a process of trial and error. Your ambivalence will most likely hang around for some time. This is very normal. Honoring it will help build compassion towards yourself, and it will reveal valuable information about the part of you that doesn’t want to give up that habit.
Your goal is to fulfill that part of you in a healthy way that reflects your values. Increasing your awareness and curiosity toward all the opposing feelings circling your habits (for example: shame, anger, fear, safety, relief, power, control, or powerlessness), will point to clues in understanding your needs and how to get them met. You are stronger than your feelings and understanding them builds your reservoir of resiliency.
Ask yourself: “What am I currently doing about my habit? Am I actively taking steps to understand its impact upon me, am I educating myself or practicing healthier alternatives in my life?” If you answered yes to any of these, that’s awesome! What you’re doing matters and requires a great deal of commitment and humility. Hats off to you!
Thinking in opposites and postponement can be effective strategies in understanding your needs and coping with triggers. By thinking in opposites, you are able to create a new map for new habits. This is important, because what you put in place of your habits has to be realistic and serve your need for change in a healthy way. What do you want to think, how do you want to feel and how do you want to respond to your habits? When faced with intense feelings, imagine what they may be trying to teach you.
It might be helpful to say to yourself, anytime you feel:
- Frustration: This is my opportunity to develop patience.
- Sadness: This reminds me of what is important.
- Anger: This helps me to understand what need is not being met.
- Fear: This tells me it’s OK to seek support and reminds me I deserve to seek and feel a sense of safety. We all do.
- Happiness: Of what am I appreciative?
In the meantime, remind yourself you are worthy of giving yourself the time and opportunity to meet your needs in a healthier way. It’s OK that we feel lost or confused, like Linus without his blanket. This is an opportunity to do something different and ask yourself if your behavior is getting you closer or further from your goals. Ultimately you are in charge of how you comfort yourself.
Please remember setbacks are normal; this is how you learn. Being intentional with your self-care activities and asking others for support through these challenging times is the foundation of maintaining the change you seek within yourself.
Woman writing photo available from Shutterstock