Martha Beck discusses ways to stop self-destructive habits.
If you have a self-destructive pattern in your life, say an addiction or a repetitive thought or procrastination or having the same argument over and over again with the same person.
The important thing is to step back and say, I am going to give myself a space of time to work on this habit.
It’s not something that you can go cold turkey on, generally. So it’s almost like waging some sort of campaign where you gradually are going to defeat this pattern or change it to a different pattern.
And the first thing you want to do is to alter one thing in the course of your habitual patterns.
So for example, there’s a therapist who tells couples who argue a lot – you can have this argument, you can have this argument about money again, you can have it any time you want.
But every time you have it from now on you have to be wearing hats. And so when a couple will start, have an argument and they’ll have to go put on these hats.
The disruption of the pattern breaks some of the sequencing in the neural patterns that have become associated with this havoc and right there you get a disruption that causes a little bit of daylight to come into the habit so that it starts to break up right there.
The second thing I want people to do is if you have a habit and you smoke a cigarette again, or you overeat again, what you want to do is don’t beat up on yourself because it happened again.
Instead, stop and mentally review everything that was happening that led up to the habitual pattern.
There’s a point where you sort of go on auto pilot and that’s where you want to find out where that happened and what triggered it and it will always be something.
It’s almost always some stressor, right? Fatigue, fear, scary news story, bad traffic – anything.
So what you want to do then is after the habit has already taken place you go back to the thing that triggered it and you calm yourself retroactively.
You say to the person stuck in traffic, you know what, a cigarette really isn’t going to help this as much as turning on the radio and singing your favorite song.
Not cruelly, very kindly say, no, no, no, next time we are going to think about other alternatives.
And the next time it happens and it will happen again, you will find that you catch yourself a little bit sooner.
Then there will come a time when you are actually in the middle of your pattern and you are aware right then, oh my goodness, I am doing it again, but you are not quite able to stop the pattern yet.
Shortly after that there will come a point where you’d go in to the pattern and your consciousness breaks through and says, I am not going here. I am not going here again, that’s all that is to it.
So by breaking up the pattern with doing one new thing and then by addressing the triggers each and every time the pattern takes place you can gradually completely overcome your negative destructive habits.
About Martha Beck:
Martha Beck, Ph.D., is a writer and life coach who specializes in helping people design satisfying and meaningful life experiences. She holds a bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies and master's and Ph.D. degrees in sociology, all from Harvard University. She has published academic books and articles on a variety of social science and business topics.
Her non-academic books include the New York Times bestsellers “Expecting Adam” and “Leaving the Saints,” as well as “Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live” and her newest book, “Steering by Starlight.” Dr. Beck has also been a contributing editor for many popular magazines, including Real Simple and Redbook, and is currently a columnist for O, the Oprah Magazine.