Reprinted at by permission from


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.  Date Published: April 21, 2000  Date Reviewed: April 21,