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Changing bad habits for the better

Posted by Hlengiwe Zwane on 31 January 2023, 22:15 SAST
Hlengiwe Zwane photo

Bad habits, and the factors behind them, are often one major obstacle between you and your goals. You may know what you want to achieve but struggle with procrastination or lack of time.

Procrastination is an avoidant urge. It's the urge to avoid doing something you think is important to you and instead do something else. You put off, delay, hesitate... It is a word often used unhelpfully to blame or criticise the self. When even one little bad habit changes, procrastination is less of an issue in that area. Making lasting changes to behaviour, beliefs, thoughts, and words is the golden road to achievement and fulfilment. But why is it difficult to change bad habits?

This is an important question that can empower you to find the hope that actions for change are worth trying again.  There are multiple significant and helpful psychological perspectives on change. The stages of change by Prochaska and DiClemente are below:

  • Pre-contemplation - Not knowing there is a problem to be changed.
  • Contemplation - Change in awareness, conflicted thoughts and feelings
  • Preparation - Collecting helpful information and resources and planning the how and when.
  • Action - Trying to do something and doing something different. 
  • Maintenance - Trying to maintain the new behaviour and avoid the old behaviour. 

How can this be helpful? 
First of all, when changing bad habits, reflecting on where you are now can help you choose an intervention or approach that is better suited to the stage you are currently at. If you think you are in the preparation stage, what you need to do to support yourself is clearer. You will be empowered to make more effective choices.

A model like this can help you realise if you have missed or not given sufficient attention to an important stage. Seeing the whole process from beginning to end can also empower you, knowing that even in contemplation, this is a significant part of changing.

Also, seeing a larger picture of change can be used to support yourself with self-encouragement.

  1. Rather than "I don't know what to do", say, "I'm in the preparation stage, gathering information". 
  2. Instead of saying, "I've messed up", say,  "relapsing is part of the change process. I'm in the maintenance and relapse stage of change. Almost there"

Many typical inner obstacles to creating change, such as shame, impatience, fear, confusion, and despair, can be managed better by zooming out and looking at the whole process more broadly. The hold of an undesirable habit can be softened and lessened with acceptance. This is acceptable for the purpose of moving forward. Sounds like a paradox... but it can be powerful to acknowledge that while you certainly want to change, there is also a good and valid reason for you starting the so-called "bad" habit and continuing the habit.

Transform your habits - Resource

Helping students break bad habits - Resource

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