Habits, for most people, are unavoidable. It is simply not realistic to expect a person to do something they do regularly deliberately differently each and every time they do it. Habits. Some habits are benign. Others can be quite harmful.
Habits are things we do regularly without thinking about them. The negative connotation comes from the realization that they may often have harmful effects that, while we are aware of them, do not inhibit us from continuing to do them. But, a habit, a routine way of doing something, need not necessarily be a bad or harmful thing.
It is said that we humans are ‘˜creatures of habit’ and, to a large degree, that is true. I drive to the office four days a week and nearly always drive on the precise same surface streets. I expect I am not alone. My favorite route has become a habit. A harmless one, I think, but a habit none-the-less. I have watched “60 Minutes” every Sunday evening that I have access to a television set since it first came on the air. Another habit, to be sure, but again, one with no negative consequences that I am aware of.
Doing familiar things in familiar ways is not an illness or problem unless the behavior causes problems in our lives or in those of those we care about. Otherwise, they are expressions of learning and preferences.
A great deal is written and discussed about habits that are harmful to people: Smoking, over-eating, abusing alcohol or other substances, driving carelessly, etc. Sometimes, not enough attention is paid to the good and healthy habits that people can and do develop, at times as deliberate replacements for some of the bad ones.
For those of us prone to becoming habitual in our behaviors (and most of us are) this is an important concept and a useful way to think about gaining control of yourself.
I think I need not detail which is which here. Everyone can break their habits down for themselves into the ones that are healthy and the ones that are destructive. While habits may not be realistically eliminated completely, there is hope in that bad habits, with a lot of will and strength of purpose, can be replaced with good ones.
Most people have some positive habits and others can be deliberately developed.Here are a few examples to get you thinking about how this notion of “Habit Replacement” might work.
People who smoke are often presumed to have become addicted to Nicotine. Well, it is not necessarily so. Sometimes, the destructively habitual behavior of smoking is driven by a need for a kind or oral gratification. People sometimes are addicted to the need to have something in their mouths.
For some of these folks, alternative habits may meet their needs without endangering their very lives. Chewing (sugarless) gum is one of the more commonly used replacement habits in that situation. There are many others, including drinking more water, a habit with its own additional health benefits.
Harmful or disruptive habits (those we keep on repeating that do not make our lives any better but tend to actually diminish the quality of our lives) can be replaced with others but such change does require commitment to achieving that change and the will to stick with it, though changing any well established habit is easier said than done for everyone.
Writing or drawing as an alternative to excessive television watching or other passively habitual time users can be tried and have worked well for many.
If one understands the underlying need to be for images and ideas to flow into the brain, trying to reverse the process (and habit) by deliberately turning the process on its head and letting images and ideas flow out rather than only allowing them in. I suspect that within most people who habitually spend their discretionary time being passively entertained, there lurks a creative self yearning for the opportunity to express itself.
For me, writing each and every day is, admittedly, a habit. It is, however, a deliberately cultivated and, I believe, a positive one.
A useful way to begin some self-examination of one’s own habits is simply to list them. What are all of the things you do on ‘˜automatic pilot?’ Then note whether you regard each item as being either positive, negative or neutral. Begin by highlighting the ones you feel are negative. Make a separate list including only those and then try to think or alternative habits ‘” one’s you believe might become equally habitual but would be good for you.
This list is the beginning of change. A road map of goals, as it were. When thinking about change, it is often useful to begin with a plan and this simple list can be yours. What you do with it, of course, is up to you.
I met one man in my clinical practice years ago who substituted what he felt was a harmful habit (smoking) with what seemed to be a neutral and potentially helpful one, writing up lists!