By Cathy Holloway Hill

A habit is an action or behavior that we perform so often that it becomes almost an involuntary response. If we consider a particular habit to be undesirable, then we label it a “bad habit”. People spend countless hours and dollars each year attempting to break these bad habits and often do not have any success. Why? Because there is no magic bullet or quick fix. Change is hard work and there is no short cut to achieving it. The steps a person must take, however, can be very simple. To effect a change in habit, one needs to bring the action back into the realm of consciousness and regain the ability to make choices.

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The subconscious mind is not capable of making decisions and choices – its job is to store information that we, consciously, place there.  We place the information there by way of our thoughts.  Before a habit is established, we first keep our thoughts focused there continually, and then we do the act once, twice, then several times over and over again until it becomes etched into our subconscious.

Think back to when you first learned how to ride a bicycle or drive a car.  Initially, you were nervous and couldn’t do it very well.  After a tremendous amount of thought and continual action (doing the act), you became proficient and the “habit” was then burned into your subconscious.  You can now do those activities without using your conscious mind at all.  Bad habits are created in the same manner.

The first step in breaking a bad habit is to look at why you find this action so compelling. In other words, what’s the payoff for doing this seemingly negative thing?  You may be tempted to say there isn’t one. But look closer. There is always a payoff. Let’s say your bad habit is yelling at your kids. What’s in it for you? You let off some steam and feel a little better for the moment. Or you have a bad habit of leaving the dishes unwashed? The payoff could be that you get to spend more time on the Internet!

Next, take a look at the trade off. What is it that you are losing by doing your habit? Yelling at your kids is a bad habit because it leaves everybody feeling tense and tears down your children’s self-esteem. You are trading a temporary release of tension for the emotional health of your children. Leaving the dishes undone is a bad habit because your kitchen is a smelly mess. To have more Internet time you are trading off having a pleasant living environment. When you look at it that way it doesn’t seem like you are making very wise choices, does it?

Now that you’ve weighed both sides of the issue–your payoff and your tradeoff–it’s time to make a choice.   The good news is that your conscious mind is responsible for decision making and choices.  You can visualize and think about the behavior you DO want and begin to slowly act it out.  Be patient – habit changes take time.  Eventually the new behavior will become burned into your subconscious and replace the old toxic habit.  The choice is yours to make! 

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