How to break a bad habit

Everyone has habits, some good, some bad.

In the video below, I talk about how habits form, and how to change them, as well as offering a tap-along section from minute 9 to help you in this process:

What defines a bad habit is simply that it is a routine or behaviour pattern that doesn’t serve you.

Creating Habits

Habits develop as a way to make your life easier. For example, you don’t normally think about how you brush your teeth. It’s a habit, and you probably do it the same way each time, without even thinking about it. And that’s exactly why you have habits: so you don’t need to relearn things every single time you do them.

You have a habitual way that you walk, and talk, and get dressed, and drive, and so on.

The problem comes when you develop a habit which then stops serving you.

Bad Habits

For instance, smoking is often seen as something that relaxes you, that gives you a treat of some kind, some time for yourself. It can be a very social habit, if you are around other smokers. Yet, smoking is bad for your health and your appearance, as well as being anti-social around children or non-smokers.

Many smokers therefore decide they want to break the habit of smoking. And there are a lot of products and services to help these days. Hypnotherapy, for instance, has a very good track record helping to become a non-smoker.

In the same way, you might have the habit of biting your nails, or comfort eating.

Behaviour patterns

There are other habits which are less recognised as being behaviour patterns which can be changed just like stopping smoking. For example, if you suffer from anxiety, this is a pattern of responding to stressors in your life. Everyone will ‘do’ anxiety in their own, habitual way. You might get sweaty palms, and try to avoid the situation that causes you anxiety. Or you might get butterflies in your stomach, and get into arguments with people.

Whether you have a more traditional ‘bad habit’, or something you may not even consider a habit but which is a behaviour pattern you always ‘do’, you can learn to respond in a different way.

stones-3364325_640

Making a change

If you want to break a bad habit of whatever kind, the first thing to understand is that you cannot just remove a habit. You need to replace it with something else.

The first thing, therefore, is to figure out when you ‘do’ your habit, and what you would rather do. Often, people just think in terms of what they don’t want, but it’s important to get clear on what you actually want.

Try to make the replacement as enjoyable and dynamic as possible!

For instance, to replace smoking you could start doing some breathing practices to bring you calm. Experiment with which one/s you enjoy most. And create a plan for yourself: I notice I’m stressed, I take some time to breathe (does that involve going somewhere in particular? Will you close your eyes or keep them open?).

If you can imagine where you would be, you can make the visualisation more ‘real’, adding in details of sights and sounds and smells. Also, focus on the sensations you will have, of calm, of being able to breathe deeply, of feeling good for taking care of yourself. The more vibrant your imagined scenario, the easier it is to build your motivation to do it.

Hypnotherapy

As mentioned, hypnotherapy has a very good track record for changing habits. It can be used both to reinforce motivation to change and to build your ability to stick to a new pattern by helping you to ‘have already done it’ in your mind. As many people say, it takes time to build a new habit, and doing this in your imagination can reduce the ‘real time’.

Hypnotherapy can also be used to stop self-sabotaging behaviours, and strengthen your resolve by highlighting the negatives of a habit.

Tapping

Tapping is also a great tool to use when creating change. It can help release the emotions around a bad habit. For example, it is good at releasing cravings and uncovering the reasons why you might want to keep a habit, even though you know it isn’t good for you. Then, you can release those motivations and install new ones.

It is also good for ‘rehearsing’ a new habit, installing it in your subconscious so it becomes easier to actually follow through on.

Coaching

To create sustainable change, it is vital to get clear on what you want to achieve, and to put in place a realistic and practical plan. Coaching is great in this regard, helping you to define what you want and what you don’t want, and to clarify what the future should look like.

If you’d like some help in getting rid of an unwanted habit, why not get in touch: ceejaymccracken@gmail.com or call me on 07561 231 281.

Advertisements

Top 5 benefits of a group

Some people see groups as the poor cousin of one-to-one therapy, including some therapists. However, this is a very short-sighted perspective.

squad-3370836_640

While it’s true that groups are generally cheaper than personal therapy, this in no way relates to their quality, or what they bring to the individual. In fact, some people may benefit more from a group than from private sessions.

Why is that?

1) Community

One thing that a group brings is a sense of community. This can be particularly important for you if you feel isolated. Perhaps because you do not get the adult contact you would like: hi there, fellow work-from-home folks. Or it could be because your issue isolates you, such as anxiety and depression, or anything seen as embarassing or shameful.

Meeting a group of people who are in the same boat can be really eye-opening. You no longer need to feel isolated. And you can learn and share with others in similar situations.

Maybe one person has tried something they found really helpful, which might work for you, too. Or you can just commiserate together: there are good psychological reasons for the truism ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. Sharing with someone who really understands what you are talking about can be very freeing, especially compared to trying to talk to someone who looks at you like a freak (or who you fear will look at you that way).

2) Empowerment

In a group, everyone is in this together. The group is not just about the facilitator. Each member brings something of value. Each person takes responsibility for their part in the group.

You have something to share, something to contribute, and you have a wealth of knowledge about your situation. You are not just receiving, you are also able to give. And you are not just being talked at, you are adding your tuppenceworth. In this sense, it is a far more balanced situation, and one where you take ownership of your own participation.

3) Improved Communication

There are certainly challenges to getting along with a group of people. You are called on to communicate clearly and empathetically. And you may come face-to-face with some of your less appealing patterns of behaviour.

All this gives you the opportunity to find better ways to communicate. What does better mean in this context? You get your needs met more!

You can become clearer, better able to ask for what you want, better able to give others what they need. Your relationships outside of the group are likely to improve, too.

4) Accountability

There are plenty of studies highlighting the importance of accountability. When you say publicly that you are going to do something, you are far more likely to actually do it.

As part of a group, you can encourage and support one another, and also check in on one another. This makes achieving the changes you want much more manageable. It can help you feel good about what you are doing, rather than feeling stressed about what you should be doing.

5) Reinforce benefits

Any benefits that you gain from the sessions will be reinforced. Partly through feedback from others, and partly through actually putting new behaviours into practice in the group setting.

The group is a safe place to try out new ways of being and of feeling, before taking them into your everyday. And if those new ways don’t work out, you’ll get immediate feedback, so that you can adjust what you’re doing. All in a safe and friendly context.

You will also reinforce any new skills you learn, by practising them, rather than just talking about them. As they say: practice makes perfect.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, you have to find what works best for you. Groups may not work for everyone.

Still, a group can also be a great way to give something a go, if you’re not sure a particular approach or technique will suit you. If you end up loving what you’ve tried, you can always dive deeper, in the group or elsewhere. And if you don’t, you may still have made a new friend or two!

How high are your standards?

You might think it’s good to have high standards, and in some ways it is.

Still, one of the dangers of high standards is that you can become unrealistic in your expectations, both of yourself and of others. The Chambers dictionary says:

perfectionism noun 1) the doctrine that perfection is attainable. 2) an expectation of the very highest standard.

As noted in the wikipedia entry for  the use of ‘perfectionism’ in psychology, it is ‘a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.

Bringing this down to the actual experience and effects, Psychology Today says it is: ‘a fast and enduring track to unhappiness‘, and that it ‘often it leads to procrastination’.

Perfectionism

If you tend to perfectionism you may see yourself and the world in a very black-or-white way. If you do something that isn’t perfect, you think it’s absolutely dreadful. There is no half-way-house. It’s all or nothing, and most of the time that means like you feel you are nothing. Self-critical thoughts are very common.

And of course, self-critical thoughts and negative self-talk generally mean that you will feel bad about yourself. Although you are striving for perfection, you more often end up with low self-esteem, and potentially depression.

Catastrophising and Generalising

There are two related issues here. One is catastrophising, and the other is generalising.

With catastrophising, you think that if you do something a little bit ‘bad’, it’s absolutely terrible. For example, you think that saying something a bit bitchy is horrendous, and that the person you said it to will now hate you forever and tell everyone that you are a dreadful person.

With generalising, doing something a little bit ‘bad’ now means that everything you do, everything you have ever done, everything you will ever do, is bad. It means that you are a bad person, through and through.

While these might seem extreme examples, the thought processes are quite common.

I’ve Blown It

Another problem with perfectionism is that you may end up in what some term the ‘I’ve blown it’ state. For example, you do something you consider wrong, think ‘I’ve blown it’ and so you decide ‘may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb’.

So, you might feel you shouldn’t eat anything with sugar in, but once you’ve had one biscuit, you figure you may as well eat the box. Rationally, you see that eating a whole box is far worse. In terms of your perceptions and your actions, though, the day is ruined so what the hell!

Procrastination

Ironically, as a perfectionist you are also often a great procrastinator. Seeing as you won’t be able to live up to the high standards you set yourself, you get overwhelmed and decide you may as well not bother trying. Better to do nothing than to fail. Yet that is also a failure, for which you will beat yourself up, metaphorically.

Even when you do get something done, you may spend ages checking and rechecking it, to get it ‘right’. So, a simple email to your boss (or boyfriend, or mother, or…) can end up taking hours.

Low Self Esteem

One effect of perfectionism is low self-esteem. After all, you can never live up to those standards, so you must be worthless! I’ve written about ways to combat low self-esteem before.

What is important to note here is also how low self-esteem is a stressor. It raises your cortisol levels and so encourages depression, poor sleep, and weight gain. Of course, there are other factors that can help with these effects, such as exercise helping with sleep. Fundamentally, though, it is good to approach the source of the problem, as well as addressing the specific effects.

Ways to Help

1) Challenge negative self-talk

One thing that you can do to help with perfectionism is to challenge that negative self-talk. When you notice you are being self-critical try turning it around with simple statements like:

everyone makes mistakes,
it’s okay to get things wrong,
nobody is perfect,
it’s alright not to be nice all the time,
everyone has a bad day now and then

2) Get a different perspective

Ask yourself some of the following questions, to try to see things from a different point of view:

How might someone else see this situation?
What would you say to a good friend who was in this situation?

3) Look at the big picture

Once again, asking yourself some simple questions can help you get out from being mired in the details.

Does it really matter?
What is the worst that could happen?
If the worst does happen, can I survive it?
Will this still matter tomorrow? How about next week? Next year?
4) Combat procrastination
I’ve written on this topic in depth already, so I’ll just link to that post, with numerous helpful tips 🙂
5) Face your fears
Along the lines of behavioural therapy, it can be useful to challenge yourself. For example, to purposefully not be perfect.

You could try being late for a change, or go into a meeting unprepared, or send an email knowing that you haven’t spell-checked it. Start little, and make sure it’s in circumstances where the consequences won’t be too serious.

6) Compassion, Acceptance and Forgiveness
Many different people, religions and therapeutic modalities advocate one or more of these as the way to find happiness. Buddhism, hinduism, christianity, islam, yogic practices, and therapies such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), to name but a few.

Castigising yourself constantly for what you are doing or not doing won’t lead you to be a better person, nor a happier one. For one thing, doing so causes you stress, spiking your cortisol levels. When you are stressed, you function in a fight-flight-freeze mode which is not good for joy, inventiveness or well-being.

This also goes to the question of negative self-talk. Critising yourself leads to low self-esteem, rather than to any actual behavioural improvement. And when your self-esteem is low, you are more likely to feel depressed and not do anything to help improve your situation.

On the other hand, forgiving yourself, accepting yourself, and offering yourself compassion do not mean that you don’t see room for improvement or the potential for change. What it means is that you accept where you are, who you are, and love yourself anyway.

How I can help

Tapping

Tapping is great for helping with perfectionism, as the concept of compassion and acceptance is built into the framework of what you do. Every round of tapping starts with stating what your current problem is, and that you accept yourself anyway.

If you really struggle with those words, you can change them at the outset. For instance, try ‘I’m okay’, or ‘I’m doing the best I can right now’ or ‘I forgive myself for not being perfect’.

Tapping is also excellent at removing emotional blocks and reducing stress. So, you can target beliefs that hold you back, the stress that mutes your innovative thinking, or perfectionism itself.

Here is a brief tapping session to demonstrate how you can target perfectionism and implement some of the suggestions above:

Hypnotherapy

Perfectionism often comes about due to internalised critical judgements from parents and others in authority during childhood. One thing that can be targeted in hypnotherapy is these critical inner voices.

Hypnosis can also be helpful in reducing your stress levels so that you can think more creatively. It can help you to emphasise the positives in your life, so that you can release negative self-talk and focus on the good, also improving your self-esteem.

Coaching

As part of the issue with perfectionism is connected with unrealistic standards, and failing to achieve what you feel you should, coaching can really help. Focusing on clarifying your goals, and making them realistic, can aid you to get more done, and feel better about it.

If you’d like some help dealing with perfectionism, why not get in touch? Call me on 07561 231 281 or email me at ceejaymccracken@gmail.com.