Most of us can think of at least one habit we have that isn’t serving our highest good. Perhaps we’re addicted to cigarettes, overeating, or overspending. We might have a tendency to gossip or lose our temper and say things we later regret. Or we could have a habit of resisting things that would actually nourish us, such as reaching out to friends, getting back into exercise, or taking that long-needed vacation.
As David Simon has observed in his book Freedom from Addiction, everyone is addicted to something. An addiction doesn’t have to fall into the obvious category of drugs or alcohol – we can be addicted to approval, perfection, or control.
If you have a habit that is creating negative consequences for your body, mind, spirit, or relationships, releasing it will open you to new possibilities for health, love, and wellbeing. Of course, moving from wanting to change to actually doing so is challenging because the repetition of any pattern of behavior establishes neural circuits in the brain. Habits generate biochemical and physiological changes that perpetuate behavior. Be assured, however, that it is possible to break a habit when you address its emotional and physical aspects. Here is a powerful process that can help you succeed:
Step One: Identify the Habit
To relinquish an unwanted habit, you have to acknowledge it by bringing it into conscious awareness. Take some time to identify a behavior that is getting in the way of your health and happiness. Close your eyes and ask yourself What do I really want to change?
Step Two: Envision the New
Close your eyes again, take a deep breath, and envision the change you want to make. If your goal is to eat healthier, envision yourself getting rid of all the junk food in your house; buying fresh, organic ingredients; and preparing them in your kitchen. Create the new script in your mind and write it down. Read it each day, making revisions that improve the story.
Step Three: Clear the Space
Set a date for ending the habit. Whether you are withdrawing from a toxic relationship, job, or substance, the first three days are usually the most challenging, so it’s helpful to start on a weekend or take a few days off work so that you will dedicated time and energy to focus on the changes you want to make. Remove all temptations from your environment, and for the next 72 hours, simplify your life as much as possible.
Step Four: Filling the Void
Habits fill deep-seated needs, so when you drop an unwanted behavior, you need to replace it with a nourishing one. Instead of “winding down” in the evening with a beer or hours of television, practice meditation or yoga. Schedule a regular afternoon exercise time rather than releasing frustration by yelling at your kids or co-workers. The key is finding an activity that provides sustainable comfort that takes the place of the temporary relief your old habit provided.
Step Five: Present Moment Awareness
When you find that you can’t resist engaging in your habit (and be gentle with yourself as often it takes a few attempts or more to release a long-held habit), do it with your full attention. If you smoke cigarettes, for example, do it mindfully. Stop whatever else you are doing and connect with your inner observer. As you smoke (or drink, shop, overeat, criticize, etc.), notice the sensations in your body and the thoughts in your mind and, as best you can, let go of all judgments.
Step Six: Surround Yourself with Healthy People
You may need to put some distance between yourself and those who continue to engage in the habit you are quitting. If you want to end a pattern of workaholism, for example, seek out people who have found a measure of work-life balance, for you will likely be influenced by their traits. Consider joining a support group of people who are on a similar path. The community and structure of an ongoing group has helped thousands of people in replacing choices that are damaging with those that are life affirming.
By putting your attention and intention on the changes you want to unfold in your life, you will be able to let go of habits that no longer serve you and experience more of what your heart truly desires.
If you need further help…
Keep in mind that if you are struggling with a serious addiction, whether to a substance or behavior, you may need more intensive support from trained professionals. Recognizing that addiction is a widespread issue, the Chopra Center has partnered with Paradise Valley Wellness Center to create a residential treatment program with an approach that blends the Eastern healing traditions with modern Western medicine and psychology. Please click here for more information >>