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Kick the Habit

By Claudette Rowley

Habits have a bad rap. Most people think that habits either "should" be gotten or "should" be eliminated. Yet, in reality, habits are simply behaviors that show how we operate internally and externally.

Our lives are filled with habits - layer upon layer of habits. In most situations, we have a usual tendency, or a habitual way of reacting to the highs and lows of life. We also react to our habits. If we say we'll go to the gym three times a week and don't, we have a habitual reaction to that. Perhaps we'll say we'll never skip again. Maybe we'll beat ourselves up or make a list of 431 reasons why skipping the workouts was beyond our control.

Habits say a lot about yourself - what you care about, what makes you angry, what makes you tick. Breaking those habits gives you lots and lots of choices in life. YOU have the power to choose your reactions, choose the words that come of your mouth, even choose your choices.

What am I talking about? When we hit a "same-old" situation or circumstances, many of us let our minds slip into automatic pilot and we lose the ability to consciously choose our reactions. It's like dropping a marble into a groove in our brains over and over. Each time, the same old thoughts generate the same old emotions, and we say or do the same old things - over and over and over again. Sounds tiresome, doesn't it?

If you actually assessed how much reacting habitually costs you in intellectual, emotional and physical energy, you'd stop right now. Today. There would be no habit to even break.

Consider your habits:

  • What do you give yourself?
  • Where do you deprive yourself?
  • How do you use food, alcohol, sex and money in your life?
  • What are your emotions of choice?
  • What are your default reactions?
  • What assumptions do you make?
  • How often do you make fear-based decisions?
  • How often do you make decisions based in joy?

Which of your habits are knee-jerk responses? When you're in seemingly identical circumstances, do you react in identical ways without stopping to notice if the situation is actually the same? For example, is your response to a potential conflict to run and hide under the nearest barrel? (If it smells like conflict, looks like conflict must be conflict). Do you react to stress with a sprint for the closest candy bar?

Unconscious, habitual responses stop us from acknowledging and honoring what we really think, feel and believe. They keep us from feeling uncomfortable, or as mad, sad, bad or glad as we probably do. They are effective avoidance techniques.

Instead try to form healthy habits like exercise, meditation, honoring your feelings and taking good care of yourself. The level of consciousness is what distinguishes these habits from the "knee-jerk" habits. Once exercise becomes a firmly formed habit in your life, you can't do it unconsciously. You still have to pack up your gym clothes and water bottle and drive to the gym or tie on your tennis shoes and go out for a run. And after a while, certain positive habits do become automatic, but don't mask thoughts, feelings and desires.

A note of caution: Watch out for healthy habits that become a "should." If taking good care of yourself becomes a "should," it might become fear-driven rather than motivated by the desire to give yourself what you deserve.

It's helpful to remember that everything you do is for a reason. You reengage in your habits repeatedly because you get something out of doing it - pleasure, pain, health, avoidance, repression, expression. We all do. Rather than being hard on yourself because you didn't go the gym again, ask yourself what you got out of staying home. Do you get to keep a comfortable identity - even if it's not the one you want?

Look deeply at your habits and you'll find new information about yourself. Look at the habits that you like and the habits that you don't; you'll find where you're stuck, what you're avoiding, what energizes you, and what you value. What could be better? Starting today, form a new habit of examining your habits and you'll be surprised at what you uncover - and discover - about yourself.

Copyright © 2008 Claudette Rowley
Claudette Rowley, coach and author, helps professionals identify and pursue their true purpose and calling in life. Learn more at Claudette
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