Habits: Aspects of Breaking the “Bad” Ones.


By: J. Marlando

I am, by nature, habitual and. at the same time, compulsive. It was very fortunate for me that I never got into drugs or I would either be a gooney-bird today or…dead. I have endured the potato chip syndrome for years which means if I like something I never stop at one. Open the chocolates and I’ll gobble them down. In addition to this, I am extremely habitual—I have rituals that I do every day starting with two cups of morning coffee—I take breaks at precisely the same time with few exceptions and my wife could probably name another dozen things I do every day almost like clockwork. A lot of people are much like me at one level or another. Not all my habits are bad of course—there are after all positive habits—like brushing one’s teeth or glancing a lot in the rear view mirror while driving. My grandmother used to love caramels—she had no teeth so she’d suck on those sweet little squares every evening getting a little cranky if she ran out. I had a cousin who bit his fingernails—often and another cousin who was forever wrinkling her nose when she was listening to someone; a kind of weird signal that she was concentrating I guess. I don’t know but the point is that bad habits—especially harmful ones—ought to left by the wayside

Before we dive into curing ourselves, however, note that an estimated 40% of ALL our daily actions are habits. For example, I know people who get up early every morning, dress and head directly to the donut shop. If they miss a morning they “feel” frustrated and endure a strange psychological and/or emotional loss. Does anyone really need a trip to the donut shop every morning?

To understand why we do things (habitually) is to comprehend the payload. The person who has made a steady ritual of going to the donut shop every morning is starting his day unpressured and freed psychologically from the world of demands and obligations. The donut may well be a mere fringe benefit for him with the real “reward” most simply being in one’s own company for fifteen minutes or so. Indeed, the “habit” might be as simple as a ritual preparing to face the rest of the day?

Nail biting is traditionally a nervous condition. (When I was a kid I used to bite the collars off my shirts. I’d just sit “nervously” in class and chomp and tear away at my shirt collars primarily because the habit kept my mind occupied. Once school was out, I was free from the habit until the next day).

Obviously nail biting is a symptom of some unconscious mental or emotional frustration, upset or fear. My collar biting was obvious because I hated the confinement of school but not all these kinds of habits are so easily explained.

There are also BAD habits that are not ordinarily thought of as “habits” but sure enough they are. For example—screaming or hollering when one doesn’t get their way can typically be traced back to “winning” through kicking and screaming as a child. The adult has simply taken the “habit” of hysteria into the rest of his or her life.

In regard to the above, my wife had a close relative who cried, as said, at the drop of a hat. She had been spoiled as a child and gained many payloads from her parents by putting on a show of tears. She most virtually put on the same show to get her way from her husband and her own daughter. This habit of weeping carried through her entire adult life!

Another compulsive behavior is shoplifting AKA petty theft. I once went with a very beautiful young lady that stole things every time we went into a store. Mostly nothing of value but she wasn’t stealing for gain but….satisfaction. A package of gum, for her, was as good as an expensive skirt or earrings.  

When I was a very young child I stole an apple from our corner market. My grandmother discovered my entrance into crime and made me return the apple saying I was sorry. I did and I never stole again. I eventually had to give up my beauty queen because she would not/could not give up stealing.

There are countless theories about what causes kleptomania which we are basically talking about. What can be said with certainty is that shoplifting is a compulsive behavior, habitual in nature. (Incidentally, it isn’t just poor people who shoplift some extremely wealthy people are also compelled to steal).

As a quick aside I believe for at least a lot of people with the neurosis that taking stuff, just for the taking, is playing out the bad-child-role either in unconscious defiance or obedience with his or her parents’ early labeling such as calling the child, “bad boy (or girl), “untrustworthy,” “underserving” and so forth. When parents or the significant others in a child’s life name call they can actually destine quirks in the child’s personality. I am in fact convinced that a very big portion of our lives are spent in defying or minding our parents in how, as adults, we respond to life and to others.

Okay, so we have established there are all kinds of “bad” habits. The question is can they be broken. Well of course. There are the old standby antidotes such as tying a string around your wrist to remind you NOT to do something…and for habits such as nail biting—mentioned in the above—there are products that a nail-biter can purchase to make their nails taste too repulsive to bite. If you're a nail-biter, you have probably tried some of these kinds of remedies?

Bad habits csan of course be broken but step one is to actually want to break them: If you are habitually eating candy all day, you are habitually hurting or harming yourself…you are setting yourself up for diabetes, obesity and all kinds of serious problems. And so, with this in mind, you must have the discipline to sit down and have a talk with yourself—why do you crave the payload you’re getting by constantly treating yourself? Are you making up for not feeling loved by others enough…are you being the rebelling child who was never allowed the candy you wanted… or are you simply weak willed?

If you have a harmful habit and can afford it, you should actually see a psychiatrist or a psychologist. I am especially in favor of those who work with hypnosis. If you can’t afford a professional, however, here is one alternative that can really lead to a healing if you are willing to devote some time to it.

First, you need to make a clear and distinct decision to really break the habit that you don’t want anymore. I do not believe, in most instances, you can simply say “I won’t do it again” and stick with that decision. After all, your habit is compulsive which means to me that it is attached to all kinds of unconscious motives. It is best if you can figure out what those motives are but chances are that you can’t—at least on your own—so you’ll need to concentrate on the cause. The symptom of the deeper reason behind the habit!

Now then, make it your new habit to sit down in a comfortable chair a couple of times a day and simply say allowed, “I do not want to __________________ever again. I cast the compulsion to__________________out of my mind, out of my body and out of my life. I have sent my habit away and it is no longer part of me.

Now, before you start shouting voodoo or metaphysical malarkey, permit me to explain the theory: Your brain is extremely powerful but it ONLY knows what it is told and believes what it is told. In other words if I say to my brain, “flying scares me” my brain will supply me the select chemicals to produce fear every time I step onto an airplane. How do I get rid of my fear of flying—I change my mind. When we change our minds, we change our worlds and we, the “I” of us, really are in charge of our own realities. Indeed, Dr. Paul Pearsall teachers us this:

The “I,” the self, is much more than

the reverberations of neurons and we

are much more than what we “think: we

are. We are also what we believe, hope,

feel and sense. We can tell our brains

not only what but how to think.

When you conscientiously contemplate what Dr. Pearsall is saying, you begin to realize that you are not a victim of your bad habits but rather a volunteer. That is, you have permitted whatever your habit is to become a reality. In fact, you might be giving your “bad” habits affirmation by saying things such as “I know I shouldn’t do such and such but I just can’t help myself.” When your brain hears this or receives this message it acts on the information it has—your brain doesn’t know if flying is safe or dangerous until you tell it.

With the above in mind you should be able to fully grasp why you can break your habit by telling your body/brain to cast out whatever your compulsion is. The practical view of this is that you are convincing your brain that you really do want to “send your habit” away and don’t want it anymore. Once your brain is convinced of this it will release the proper drugs to relieve you of the (old) compulsion.

This will NOT happen overnight—your habit has probably been building for most of your life so it is naïve to think you’ll kick it in a few days. However, if you actually give your brain the information as stated in an above paragraph and do so consistently, conscientiously and with determination, you will begin to feeling stronger and less compulsive in just a few days. Just make it your habit to do this until you have truly and finally lost the compulsion you want to get rid of. Why not give it a try—you have nothing to lose and a heck of a lot to gain.

Reference: Pearsall, Paul * Super Joy * Bantam Books