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How to Change a Nasty Habit

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How to Change a Nasty Habit

Healing Lesson of the Day

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We are talking emotional and mental habits, mostly. That’s not to say the advice couldn’t apply to, say, nasty habits like chewing tobacco or not washing your hands before you eat. However, I’m primarily talking about habitual negative patterns we engage in our hearts and minds, our personal, self-made obstacle courses on the path to happiness.

You know what I'm talking about- you’re going along with your merry way, and BAM! There’s that situation again, which gets you by the balls (ovaries?) every time.

It could be a recurring argument with a loved one. It could be an uncomfortable run-in with a grocery clerk who eerily reminds you of someone, but you’re not sure who. It could be the overblown way you handle criticism or praise. It could be the way you get disappointed after you change your hair and your partner doesn’t notice. Whatever it is, you’ve probably got a list as long as I do of things you want to change.

Trust that Change is Possible

Being a better person is not something that happens overnight. The Gods don’t usually just flick fairy dust on you and “Poof!!” you’re instantly a saint, filled with compassion, wisdom, forbearance, and other highly evolved, divinely human traits. If you’re like me, stubborn to the core, whatever self-improvements you’ve made you’ve learned to wrangle them out of yourself using a fair degree of determination, repetition, and patience. We mortal cowboys and girls have to work on it. We have to want it. We have to ask for help when we need it. We have to believe that there is a better way, and trust that change is possible. Perhaps hardest of all, we have to be willing to mold ourselves into something better, and let the comfort of old bad habits die a natural death.

The beautiful thing about changing habits is that people have gone before you. They have contemplated, studied, and tested how change happens. I’ve learned from Himalayan saints in caves, exiled Tibetan Buddhists, Hollywood wives in Bel Air, and various roving transpersonal therapists, to name a few. Here’s my distillation of a decade of mentoring with some of the world’s most interesting, if obscure, experts on change.

How Change Happens:

  • Tension, then Desire. You experience tension in your life due to a negative pattern, and have a desire to change it.
  • Repeated Failure, then Openness. You recognize that you’ve repeated your negative pattern after you do it, and after a bit of self-flagellation you begin to ask yourself, “How can I look at this differently?”
  • Self-examination, then Pre-cognition. When you begin to look at the pattern differently, you have the opportunity to recognize more positive ways to interact. In time, you also begin to recognize what you’re thinking about right before you step into the pattern again. Here you can see where your thinking is incorrect, and seek to correct it with more positive beliefs.
  • Realization, then Repetition. Next time the situation occurs, you’re able to see the thoughts and the pattern coming, but you do it anyway out of habit.
  • Cessation, then more Self-realization. Next time, you recognize the thoughts that precede the pattern, and you begin to stop just before you repeat your pattern. When you’re stopped, you have the opportunity to truly choose differently. You recognize more positive ways think about the problem and better ways to interact. At this stage, you attempt to do it better, though it’s often clumsy at first.
  • New Patterning and Practice. As you find the beliefs and actions that work much better for you, you establish a new pattern by practicing it every time the situation presents itself.
  • More Practice, then True Change. By practicing your positive response over and over again, you transform yourself from within. Eventually, you forget the negative tendency entirely. (Yes, you really do!)
Pick something you want to change about yourself, and evaluate which step you’re on. Then make your intention to get to the next step with the least amount of rodeo wrangling. Have patience, perseverance, and grow your faith that the evolution of your pattern is inevitable. Good luck!

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