Changing habits is not easy. It can seem like as soon as we decide to change a behavior, the whole world conspires to challenge and thwart our courageous intentions. Habits compel us to act against our better judgment and reason, despite our desire to act differently. Therefore, habits can be our best friend or our worst enemy, depending on their nature.
Habits are formed through the continued repetition of a certain thought or action. The behavior or thought then becomes automatic and requires little thought or conscious effort to engage in that activity. Habits and feelings are closely tied together because there is a sense of normalcy that can be comforting and predictable, while change often feels extremely uncomfortable. Anytime we want to make a change in our lives, we often must learn to act differently then we feel. This can be a powerful statement to remind ourselves on a regular basis when working on changing a pernicious habit.
In the process of early recovery, there are often urges and cravings that can feel compelling and strong. You may want to have a drink or use your go-to substance to feel differently and avoid the discomfort of feeling uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, I have not heard of, nor know of anyone who has ceased problematic substance use without having to sit with discomfort to a greater or lesser degree. The more we can get comfortable being uncomfortable, the more we build the habit of acting on our best judgement because we know it is in our best interest long-term. We began to no longer do what feels good only in the moment yet causes long term suffering, both in our lives, and the people most important to us. You are probably already practicing this in your life to some extent, and if you have a desire to change problematic substance use, you can start taking positive action right now!
Forming helpful new behaviors is like building a muscle, the more we work at it the stronger and easier healthy behaviors are to establish. Keep in mind we must often first establish a new habit before we begin to experience the benefits of this new behavior. We cannot go to the gym for a few days and expect our body to look and feel the way we want it to or eat healthy for one week and presume we are good to go. By taking small steps in the right direction to establish a firm habit of exercising regularly, or eating healthier, we create a new lifestyle that can continue to compel us to carry on that helpful habit, even when we feel like acting differently! By practicing this in your life regularly it will assist your recovery efforts by training you to confidently know that you can do what you set your mind to regardless of how you feel.
I suggest trying the following formula to make positive habit change a daily routine in your life.
- Choose one action you can perform daily that feels uncomfortable doing, but you know will be beneficial for you.
- Identify the time of day, specific place to engage in this action, and amount of time you will spend doing it
- Make this extremely manageable, an action and length of time you are 99% confident you can achieve daily.
- Set reminders on your phone or use post-it notes to help you remember your new action
- Take action today and start engaging even if you feel uncomfortable. Reminding yourself that you are comfortable, being uncomfortable!
Example: New behavior is to exercise for at least 5 minuets every day. I can perform 20 push-ups, 20 squats, and a minute or two of planks. I will do this each morning as soon as I get out of bed.