How To Change A Negative Habit

As complex human beings, the way we act or think is influenced by many variables such as our environment, DNA, uprising,…At times, consciously or unconsciously, we are caught in patterns of negative emotions or behaviors that impact us at home, work or in our relationships. Norman Vincent Peale referred to negative thinking as fertilizing weeds; other negative emotions or behaviors include anger, resentment, jealousy, perfectionism or addictions. Brené Brown, a Phd professor, lecturer and author notes in her Dare To Lead book, “when we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending. And when we don’t own our stories of failure, setbacks and hurt – they own us.”

How to ditch a negative emotion or behavior?

  • Assess the cost of not changing versus the cost of changing. At times, there are warning signs related to a particular negative behavior or emotion, but even when we are self-aware, we tend to minimize its potential impacts or long-term consequences; we end up normalizing somewhat the behavior or not being intentional about making a change. There are times however when things hit us loud and clear – jobs or relationships are at risk. Be realistic about the behavior/emotion and its costs. When the cost of not changing is higher than the cost of changing, it becomes very obvious that we need to make a change. If for instance, as a parent, you lose your patience way too often, because of your own unhealed wounds, as per James Hollis, an author and Jungian analyst, “the greatest gift we can give our children is our own healing.” 
  • Recruit an accountability partner. It can be your spouse, best friend, a work colleague you trust. Let them know you decided to work on your emotion/behavior and that you need their help to keep your commitment and be accountable.
  • Develop a help system. Identify what and who can help you sustain the change. It can be seeking and getting the professional help you might need. Or finding online or local groups, and resources that you will rely upon when you are tempted to go back to your old behavior. The idea is to develop your own microsystem of practical resources and ways to address the behavior, or to simply remind yourself why the change is needed.
  • Visualize yourself living or working free of the emotion/behavior you are working on. The power of our mind -via affirmations or visualization- is the biggest tool we have to manifest changes. This is because sooner or later we default to acting according to our beliefs. As a visual learner, it’s been a breakthrough for me to understand that the simple act of writing down and seeing on paper the qualities I want to reflect make a difference in me acting in that way.
  • Create a reward and self compassion system. Celebrate the wins and progress e.g. first day, week, month, year of freeing yourself of the negative behavior/emotion. Elimination all together and over night might not be possible, therefore relapses will happen. That’s when you cannot give up even in the face of failure, by being self compassionate and continuing the journey of making the change. As per Dr Kristen Neff, a widely recognized expert and founder of the Self-Compassion Research Lab, “self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism“.

Growth is a journey in part because it takes continued courage and self-awareness to peel the onion of our souls and walk into our purpose. It is not about being perfect but about embracing our imperfections and deciding to take action to work through them in love and compassion but also firmly and responsibly.

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