October 1, 2020

Bank of Bad Habits

Experts like to call alcoholism the disease of denial, but that applies to most any problem.
James Prochaska, Ph.D.

One by one they will do you in; they are bound to take control.
Jimmy Buffett “Bank of Bad Habits”

 Consider for a moment your bad habits and if you are interested in stopping one or more? Do you know why you continue with a particular habit?   What new habits do you  want to develop but can’t seem to start?

James Prochaska, author of “Changing for Good, writes on six stages of change: pre-contemplation, contemplation, planning, action, maintenance and termination.      In this blog, we will look at the pre-contemplation and contemplation in relation to stopping bad habits or starting good ones.

It is important to note bad habits often start by providing some positive function.  While we look into hoarding households and see chaos, the mess did not happen overnight. Hoarding for one couple started with two “needs”. The female shopped and bought items she felt her family needed. She felt good meeting that need. Eventually, she was buying and felt momentarily satisfied with shopping, though was no longer buying for need.    

The addictive shopping provided a “rush”, but was no longer taking care of her family. It was fulfilling her desire to feel better for the moment. She convinced herself of the need.

The husband, on the other hand, wanted to make the most of what they had. He saved; he was reluctant to throw away, thinking of another use or perhaps repairs. Item by item, day by day, they failed to notice the amount of stuff gathering in the house; they overlooked the way they were living.  

When the crisis happened, a threat to lose custody of their children, they finally paid attention.  With emotional turmoil and professional help, they simplified their residence.

Bad habits start slowly, as the story highlights; they may at the   beginning have had a positive purpose. Similarly, the bad habit of continually washing hands may start as a good health habit. Or an Internet gaming starts as a diversion but becomes hours on end spent mindlessly.  

At what point does a new skill become a bad habit? How can we pay attention? Paying attention is the key.

A woman has rotten food throughout her home. She doesn’t smell it; she doesn’t see it. In the same way, smokers don’t notice the burns in their clothes, the smoke stink in the house, people avoiding them or the discoloration of their teeth. It is just out of their awareness. Bringing the costs of the bad habit into awareness, then becomes step one.

This, according to Prochaska, bringing it to awareness is the pre-contemplation stage of change.  You know a behavior is present and consider that it may be a problem.

Think about a bad habit you have. What are the costs in time and distraction from productive activity?  Stop to consider the down sides of your behavior. Write down specifics on what it is you do.  Measure particularly the duration and frequency. If you think this habit may be worth taking positive action, you are moving from pre-contemplation to the contemplation stage. Maybe you will consider making a further change.

Next week, next steps.

Bill