March 3, 2024

Bank of Bad Habits Part 2

“Carpenters bend wood. Fletchers bend arrows. Wise men fashion themselves.” Buddha

“Ignore people who say it can’t be done.” Elaine Rideout

Have you decided on a habit to change and fully considered reasons to do so? It’s important to note that stopping a bad habit is only part of the process.

Last week, James Prochaska’s Pre-contemplation and Contemplation stages of change were talked about. In this blog, his   next steps, Preparation, Action and Maintenance will be discussed.


You have considered, in Contemplation, what you stand for and what is it you want to model for others. You have considered how your bad habit challenges your integrity. The very fact you label it “bad” indicates it is contrary to something you stand for.    Now is the time to connect your meaning with your plan.

What plan will you make to stop the old and/or implement the new?

Generally we need new rituals, new habits to replace the lost ones. The more positive rituals, positive habits we have in our life, the less space for the negative.

For instance if, when stressed, we can teach ourselves to take deep breaths, soak in the oxygen, stop and notice how the body feels. With practice  the new ritual  of  taking deep breaths, stopping and relaxing during stressful times is created. Eventually we will do it without thinking — it just becomes natural. 

 I remember a friend who planned to stop smoking. Part of his plan was to carry no money. One day he was traveling and without thinking stopped to buy a pack of cigarettes. When asked to pay couldn’t; he had no cash. He was reverting to smoking without thinking but had anticipated that problem; He didn’t have money to buy even one pack. He has been a non smoker for 20 years. So in your plan to stop your habit answer: “What will I do when I am tempted to go back to the habit?”

Consider your habit — the times of day or an event triggering a run to sugar, or playing on the internet; make a plan to address that time. What will you  do instead? These triggers and fatigue contribute to when we are most likely to revert to the old routines.  

 Can you find a partner to go down this new road with you?  Years ago when I started my exercise habit, it was in part because Denny and I decided that we would complete a nine mile run. The commitment to each other made a difference in producing a good habit, that in hindsight I had weakly attempted for 7 years; I have now exercised regularly for 33. Include intermittent rewards for progress. Don’t use a reward that is contrary to what you are trying to establish — i.e. don’t buy a candy bar to reward passing up sugar.   

Action: Sometimes we try to start here. It is hard to do without a plan. Set a date. Go public and tell people what you are going to do. Then step over the line and begin. Remember to celebrate and reward progress.

Generally it takes about 21 days to form a new habit. It’s really not that simple. Sometimes it takes longer. Progress is not often smooth; it’s hard work. Progress is often three steps forward and two back. 

Get people in your life that will help you. Hang out in environments that encourage progress. When I began exercise, it was helpful for me to hang out at the Y.

The opposite is also true; we know that people who abuse substance, and continue to associate with others who abuse substance, are much less likely to be successful in stopping. As noted in an earlier blog “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. Choose your friends well.

Maintenance:  You have the habit going. Don’t be over confident. It’s still possible to take steps back. What will you do to continue to reward yourself and  how will you be with people that encourage your new habit?

I was challenged recently when I left my employment of 33 years. Lots of rituals had been built into working in one place so long; the habit of exercise was intermingled within those work rituals; I thought regular exercise was forever. A new schedule and new freedom challenged that. It was important to adjust how exercise would fit into my new life. So far that has been done, but the confidence that I would just do this forever was a bit eroded. I continue developing the new rituals of private practice to include exercise as part of my routines.  

Don’t give up. You have determined what you want to accomplish is important. Hopefully you fully addressed that as you contemplated the change. Interestingly smokers are some of the best at stopping. It happens all the time … yet generally they are not successful until the 3rd or later efforts.

The challenge, it seems, is if this effort fails, learn from the setback and try again — sooner rather than later. Good luck with your efforts.

I’d love to hear of your challenges and successes. Just leave a comment at the blog or go to the contact page and submit the form.

Changing for Good by Prochaska is worth reading.