Reprinted at http://www.schaler.net by permission from drkoop.com
April 21, 2000
For Once and for All: How to Break a Bad Habit
By Lynne Zerance
Every Jan. 1, millions of us vow to make life changes by adopting New
Year's resolutions. This year, we promise ourselves, is the year we're
really going to quit smoking, lose weight, stop overspending, give up
drinking, etc. For most of us, the resolution list tends to read the
same, year after year, as we struggle to implement these lifestyle
changes and find ourselves reverting to our old behaviors.
What's the secret to permanent success? How can we kick these bad habits
-- for once and for all?
The first step, according to Jeffrey Schaler, psychologist, adjunct
professor at American University School of Public Affairs in Washington,
D.C., and author of "Addiction Is a Choice" (Open Court, 2000), is to
believe that you are not powerless in relation to your own behavior.
"Know that you have the power to overcome your addictions and bad
habits," Schaler says. "Some addiction recovery programs teach people
that they are victims of a disease. Teaching people that they can't
control their behavior means that people are likely to prove that true.
If, on the other hand, you teach people that they can control their own
behavior, they're likely to prove that true, too."
Schaler suggests approaching the habit-kicking challenge as a process of
transferal: changing a negative habit into a positive one. In effect,
the focus won't be on stopping a bad habit, but on creating a new
healthy habit. "If you're trying to lose weight, for example, and you
focus on not eating, all you end up doing is thinking about eating.
Instead, focus on exercising or on eating healthfully," Schaler says.
Using a gradual approach to affecting change -- as opposed to a
cold-turkey effort -- greatly increases your chances of permanent
success. "You can't expect to change overnight," says Linda Omichinski,
RD, author of "How to Stay Off the Diet Rollercoaster" (Advice Zone,
Com. 2000). "If you've done something for many years, it's going to take
a while to teach yourself a new way of living. Small, incremental steps
are part of the process. Keep a journal of your progress, and reward
yourself along the way."
Recognize that relapses and regression are part of the process. "Don't
get locked into all or nothing thinking," warns Omichinski. "If you're
overeating only five days a week as opposed to seven days a week, that's
progress. You're not a failure if you slip back into your old behavior
once in a while." Instead, Omichinski advises that you learn from your
setbacks. "Pay attention to your relapses. Try to understand what made
you overeat or have that cigarette. What was the trigger? "
Finding a support system is another key factor in creating a lifestyle
change. "You're much more likely to make it if you have someone else
routing for you, Omichinski says. "Find a support group or a buddy, even
an e-mail friend of phone pal."
And examine your existing relationships as well: Does your social life
revolve around the bad habit? "A person who drinks heavily may have many
friends who drink too much," notes Schaler. "Oftentimes, to give up the
habit, you have to give up relationships, too. If your friends are
supportive, then you may be able to save the friendships."
Above all, you have to want to change. "You won't succeed in breaking a
bad habit if you are doing so just because you think you should or need
to," points out Omichinski. "The best motivation lies in recognizing the
benefits of the improved quality of life that will result from the new
behavior. No matter what the bad habit, eliminating it always results in
an improved quality of life."
Finally, examine the underlying cause of your habit. "The habit is only
a symptom," Schaler says. "The underlying problem may be your
self-esteem, relationships or how you feel about your job. Examine the
rest of your life. Those are the real issues that need to be changed so
that you don't simply trade in one bad habit for another one."
Lynne Marie Zerance is a magazine writer and editor based in New Jersey.
drkoop.com Date Published: April 21, 2000 Date Reviewed: April 21,