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by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw


Why habits are so hard to break

In a previous post I wrote about how long it takes to form a habit. You can read it here if you haven’t already. In short, habits take time and repetition to form - sometimes a lot longer than the oft cited 21 to 28 day rule. So be warned if you think that habits are easy to break in less than a month, because they aren’t. For a very good reason.
Changing habits is hard because they serve a purpose. For example, you may drink too much alcohol not just because you have a habit for drinking alcohol every day (there goes the repetition) but because alcohol relaxes you, or perhaps makes you feel less anxious in company. There’s the good reason.
Habits are habitual responses to needs, and until those needs are recognised and addressed the habit will remain. What is required is a better way to feel relaxed and less anxious in company; a way that doesn’t ruin your liver or make you feel rubbish in the morning. Only when you can identify why it is that you have adopted this habit can you begin the task of changing the habit of drinking too much, or eating too much, or even smoking, which hitherto has been seen as a physiological addiction, but really isn’t (I’ll bore you with the science if you want - just post me a comment for details).
If you want to change bad habits, then you really need to look at what that habit is masking. If you can do that, then the challenge becomes a whole lot easier. Well, more than just easier - it becomes do-able. There really is no point in trying to break a bad habit without being aware, at the very least, of what that habit has been working so hard at doing for you.
So please, lets give habits a break; they deserve a better press. After all, the habit of brushing our teeth is a good habit. The habit of saying thank-you and please is also very good. The habit of smoking or drinking too much alcohol is not so good, but they’re only there because we couldn’t think of any better solution. It's not the habit's fault.
So what about good habits? Well, good habits become habits through repetition (again and again and again and again - every day for at least 18 days, an average of 66 right up to 254). Think of it as a prescription.

posted by Annabel

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