Have compulsive habits like eating too much candy? Smoking? Loosing your cool? Overeating? Panic attacks? Potato chips? Biting your nails? Too much TV watching? What “Jones” do you have that just frustrates the heck out of you? You might have owned it for months or many years, but it’s that dominating overwhelming desire you know you’ll cave into. Everybody’s got at least one. Many are the not so proud owners of several.
Willpower is hardly a match for these ingrained compulsive habits. You can’t think them away and the harder you try, the more you’re overwhelmed with the inevitability of giving in. This is called “a reverse effect.” Most folks just stop efforting in vain and go with the temptation rather than constantly feeling possessed/oppressed by the desire.
What I’m going to suggest is not meant to be the answer for life threatening and life altering addictions like alcohol, drugs, sex, abuse, etc., that should be respected enough to be treated by the appropriate, qualified specialist. Everyone else, listen up.
The combination of behavior modification (external change) and mental reprogramming/reframing (internal change) together, as a concert, will be enough to change most obnoxious compulsive habits. What has been learned and become a pattern at one time can be re-learned and re-patterned now.
Here’s a simple system that will work to eliminate your compulsive habits.
If it seems workable, commit yourself to engage (not try) for a month. The learning curve is most difficult at the beginning of a change or re-learning process. As you develop the new muscle memory, mindset, focus, create new neural pathways and let go of the drama, good things happen easier and compulsive habits loosen their grip.
1) Identify what you want instead of focusing on eliminating compulsive habits . Write your purpose down in terms of what you do want, not what you don’t want. Your brain hears the NOT, but also receives the picture of what you don’t want, example–don’t picture a green hippopotamus with purple spots, thus creating a mixed message and reinforcing the negative picture. (e.g. I eat healthy snacks at appropriate times in the appropriate amounts), not, I don’t eat candy bars, (I am calm and relaxed in important situations), not, I don’t lose my cool under pressure, (I am a non-smoker), rather than I don’t smoke cigarettes.
2) Create a target date by which you’ll be (a non smoker, totally free of candy urges, calm in all challenging situations, etc.) Target dates create the sense of urgency. Set the date far off and you pay less attention. Set the date closer and you need to make better decisions sooner and get your giddy up going.
3) Modify (desensitize) your behavior gradually and slightly. Don’t get your systems overwhelmed by a tumultuous change. This is how you teach children, puppies, sales personnel, doctors, etc. (eg. instead of cutting out 5 candy bars per day, how about for a week, cutting back to 4 &1/2, then the next week cutting out another half, etc.? How about changing brands of cigarettes, smoking ½ a cigarette less per day? Going to sleep each night for a week 1/4 hour earlier and the next week 1/4 less again, etc? Websites are filled with great little ideas to help modify. Do some homework.
4) As you are confronted with any compulsive habit like your raging desire to eat that candy bar, light up, blow your cool (or whatever) pause and take a breath. Calm down and bring your mind back to your body. You know… that mindfulness, be present, thingy. Make the better choice, just in that moment. The present is the only moment you have. Don’t look over your shoulder at your history and what you have or have not done. Don’t look ahead, confuse things, and self-sabotage. Stay present and make the best decision NOW. If your decision is not in line with your vision of perfection, so what? Don’t beat yourself up (that’s what you have friends and relatives for), but having the vision of perfection will bring you closer and closer to better choices as you stay on track.
5) Pain can be your friend. Wear a loosely fitting rubber band on either wrist and pluck it in those moments when you feel like you’re going to cave in to the compulsive habit, the temptation. Urges peak in about 20 seconds. If you can distract yourself (and pain is a great distracter) it will be easier to move to another choice or activity. If you’re not doing a great job of distracting yourself mentally, a little pluck on the rubber band will usually do the trick as you refocus on the next best decision. A little extra possibility is that creating the association of pain with that of your obsession can be a trigger in your brain that when your obsession starts getting stronger, the brain will release less of the neurotransmitters dopamine and oxytocin (good feelings) and produce more cortisol (bad feelings). We make decisions bio-chemically not psychologically. Our initial impulse happens and then the justification takes over. In a small way, associate your compulsion with a little discomfort, not just guilt.
6) When you make the better choice, pause and give yourself a positive recognition. We focus on so much that ranges from neutral to negative. So, take a moment to reinforce that good choice you’ve just made. You’ll eventually make changes not because you want to, or need to, or have to, but because it feels good.
7) Self-hypnosis will speed up the learning process (being a non smoker, enjoying prospecting, making better eating choices, becoming calm and relaxed in typical pressure situations, etc.) 2X5 times faster than not using it. See the change in your mind that you want to create. Thoughts are things. Learn to deeply relax at will. In that less noisy state of mind, the suggestions, visuals and feelings you reinforce, make deeper neurological impressions for easier and faster changes. You’re actually rewiring your brain!
Getting rid of compulsive habits, improving performance, changing habits and attitudes or developing focus doesn’t have to be as difficult as most make it out to be.
The hard or easy of it is your choice.