Tried or Trying to Break Bad Habits?

Toronto Companion | 17 Nov 2021 - 08:57
Tried or Trying to Break Bad Habits?

Change of habits is not merely a matter of knowledge or skill. If that was true, then all information campaigns on how to improve your health would have made behaviour-related illnesses a thing of the past. We would all be slim and rich and teenage girls would not get pregnant. Sadly, many people fail to create lasting changes in their behaviours and repeat their failures again and again…

Have you ever tried to break bad habits?
The key to creating and maintaining behavioral change is in getting and staying motivated. Some people start lifestyle changes that last a few weeks at best. The attendance figures at health clubs in January and February show you the people who began very motivated and lost their passion. Other people wish they could do something, but never work up the motivation to begin. The title of comedian Totie Fields’ book I Think I’ll Start on Monday: The official 8 1/2oz Mashed Potato Diet sums it up. She also said: “I’ve been on a diet for two weeks and all I’ve lost is two weeks”.

Can crisis motivate change?
Conventional social work theory suggests that the highest potential for change is in crisis. This seems logical, since during a crisis nothing is normal and there is the opportunity to make important decisions about the future. Organizations often try to make radical shifts when they face financial or other disasters. But if crisis really is the highest potential time for change, then why do 90% of coronary bypass patients not make long-term changes to their behaviour after surgery?

Because breaking habits requires both short-term and long-term motivation strategies. 
When a crisis triggers someone to want to do something differently, it can be effective for the short term. This is motivation away from something, because the person is motivated to move away from a situation they do not want. An example: a person doesn’t like himself in the mirror, so decides to get slim. Motivation away from can get you started. The problem is that it loses power once you are on the way. How can you stay on track after the away from motivation has waned? In 2 ways: 1. to constantly remind yourself that you don’t want to be unhealthy or whatever. This takes a lot of work and the effects of maintaining a state of fear or disgust are unhealthy. 2. to add motivation towards something good.

Also bear in mind that…
Since motivation away from the bad is effective for short periods and most changes to behaviours and habits take longer, you need a mechanism to maintain motivation. You can do this when you have a goal that you strongly want to achieve to replace the problem you want to avoid. This goal representsmotivation toward something good. The motivation away from something bad can get you started and gives you a push. The motivation toward something good draws you closer to what you want.

This way you get the benefit of the push and the pull. The problem with having only motivation toward something good is that if you are beginning far from your goal, starting is demotivating. If your goal is to run a marathon and you get out of breath running for a bus, it is easier to put off running. If you only have motivation toward something good with nothing to kick you into action, you may procrastinate.

Reinforcement: habits are like water running downhill. 
Motivation away from x and toward y are not always enough. Habits are hard to kill. They are like water running downhill – it takes no effort to maintain a habit. Habits are rituals that you perform without thinking and are psychologically committed to. Sometimes they are formulas of stimulus-response. Sit in front of the TV – feel hungry – get food… A good system is easier to follow than not to follow. If you want something to become a habit, insert it into an existing procedure. To remember to take vitamins put them in front of the coffee pot instead of hiding them in the cupboard. Inserting the new behaviour into an existing procedure builds your new commitment into what you already do. When the new behaviour is part of a procedure that you effortlessly follow, it will reinforce and gradually become like water running downhill.

What you see is what you get. 
From research on quitting smoking researchers found that people were more successful at becoming nonsmokers if they could see the state they wanted to move away from and the state they wanted to move toward. Verbal affirmations are rarely compelling enough to trigger and maintain your motivation. But when you can see both what you want and what you don’t want, it becomes more real than merely telling yourself something. Imagine the idea of being at the right weight or level of fitness. It’s easier to imagine when you can see yourself in your favorite outfit or running 3 miles effortlessly.

Beliefs, values, and who you are contribute a great deal.
If you don’t believe that it’s possible to change bad habits, none of the motivational strategies will work. Look for an example where you have made a significant change. Notice that all the motivational strategies were present. If you could do that, why could you not do this? There is only one way to find out – how important the change is to you If it’s not frequently on your radar, perhaps you don’t care enough to make the shift. Why is changing this habit important to you? And why is that important? What kind of person believes that the change you want is worth pursuing? Is this the kind of person you want to be? How are you already like this?

When you have identified the beliefs, values, and identity that will enable you to imagine that this change is really possible, hold them in your heart and allow them to and spread throughout your physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual self. Repeat this daily as part of your daily rituals until it feels natural.

Miracle cures are not motivation. 
Real change of behaviour is possible when you have the strategies to start and maintain motivation, when you can see what you want, have inserted the new behaviour into a ritual you do, believe it’s possible, value the new behaviour, and think of yourself as a person who does that. There’s no wonder why miracle cures don’t last!

This will help you break old and build new habits
Do you have a project for a change of behaviour that is important to you? Check by filling in the blanks whether you have all the motivation triggers in place.

Away from: I do not want ____________________________________.

Toward: what I want instead is ________________________________.

Negative consequences: if I don’t succeed, what will happen that I don’t want? _____________________________________________________.

Positive consequences: when I succeed, what will happen that I want?


I can see/imagine an example of each of the above.

I have inserted this new habit into this procedure that I already do naturally.


And I am regularly accountable to _______________ for completing my goal.

I believe that it is possible to do this because ______________________________________.

I have succeeded at something like this when I ___________________________.

This is important to me because ________________________________.

The kind of person who does this is ______________________________.

I am that kind of person because ________________________________.

And if you feel that sharing your experiences will help you,
I’m not a men’s coach for nothing! I’m always here to support you.

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