6 Steps To Overcoming Your Worst Habit

Dr. Purushothaman
January 10, 2014


How ashamed are you of your habit? How much do you want to get over this habit? Thinking about the amount of "satisfaction" you gain from your habit, where would you place it on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the highest?

The apparent satisfaction that you gain from your habits is the real reason that you might fail to overcome them. Whether real or imaginary, it is the value you place on satisfaction that determines how successful you are in overcoming them. This then, leaves you with a question that you must answer before you can go any further with this topic: "Are you prepared to pay the price?" You need to address the question of not so much being prepared to give up the habit, but to give up that "satisfaction" that it brings.

I keep putting the word "satisfaction" in inverted commas simply because often as habits are concerned, any such occurrence is simply masking the negative effects that are taking place behind the scenes. Such effects can by physical, spiritual, or both. This type of gratification and/or the delivery of it is nothing more than a master of illusion.

Simple examples of this would be:

Cigarettes - "they calm nerves"

Alcohol - "it helps me relax and unwind"

Coffee - "it wakes me up"

Such gratuitous statements cover up the damaging effects that such habits may be having behind the scenes. In cigarette smoking for example, the damage to lungs and the potentially lethal existence of cancer.

So why? Why do millions of people participate in those things/experiences that potentially are the source of damage or even death? Some will say that it is simply out of habit, but in reality, the problem starts sooner than that. As all things, it starts with a first step. But of course, that first step has gone now. For the purposes of this particular article, it has disappeared into the ether. So forget about the first step, forget even about successive steps that have brought you to where you are today. The real question is what is to be the next step? What step is it that you must take to overcome the most demanding of habits?

So how do we do it? Do you just read some words and that`s that? Well, if you are really motivated and all you need is a little push, then maybe. In reality though, it is going to need more than that.

If I take a large jug and place it under a dripping tap, it is gradually going to fill with water. At some point, it will overflow, as it cannot hold any more than it already does. The tap keeps dripping, the jug keeps overflowing. Place yourself in the position of the jug. What is it going to take to stop you from overflowing? Someone needs to turn off that tap!

Ah that it were that simple. I am not the most practical of people in doing things around the house. I have a go, but often things like practical tasks take a while to get done - just ask my wife! One of those little things that I need to do is to replace one or two tap washers. Currently, to turn off the kitchen tap it takes almost superhuman effort. In applying this effort, the tap is now pointed at an odd angle! The moral of the story is that in order to overcome the greatest habit, you need to terminate the flow, and to terminate the flow, you need to terminate the source. In our example, that is not enough, you also need to strengthen the means of terminating the source. Let`s move on...

I did get as far as visiting the hardware store to look for tap washers. I left without buying any. The reason? They come in various sizes and I had no idea what size I needed! I at least had enough wherewithal to realize that if I didn`t get the right size, I was going to have water all over the place!

Stopping the flow is a key factor in getting over any habit, but if you have sufficient strength to simply do that, then my hat goes off to you. The normal everyday answer though, lies in deflection and diversion. When the rains come and the floods come roaring down, what do you need to keep control of the situation? Things like dams, or on a smaller scale, flood barriers or channels play a significant role in breaking the habit of the normal flow of water. On some remote island where the waters gush down the mountainside, it is a common problem for villages etc to be washed away. In some areas of the world, nature has been confronted and the water safely diverted out to sea.

In our day to day lives, providing such diversions and dams is not new. Rather than reconstruct what already exists or come up with some "magic potion" or latest "as seen on TV" product, it would greatly help the process if you would look inwardly for a while. Ask yourself this simple question: "Does it really matter?"

We are not talking about some simple habit here. We are talking about something more major. It may not be seen as major by everybody, but for you it is significant. So, if your will is not behind breaking the habit, if you are not positively determined, if you are not prepared to do whatever it takes to break the habit, then you might as well give up now...

Still with me? Great. That tells me something about you. It tells me you are sincere. That you believe from deep inside that there is a need for this habit of yours to be brought to a close once and for all. It tells me that despite any "pleasure" it may generate, you can see beyond that. You can see that the "pleasure" you are experiencing is an illusion when compared against what kind of lifestyle you really want, what kind of character you really want to be and so forth. Okay. Let`s do it. Let`s make that change. You`ve come with me so far, now pick up the plan and run with it.

STEP 1: Recognize that your habit is not acceptable - not even mildly.

This step is crucial. If in the back of your mind somewhere, you are saying to yourself something like..."Oh it`s okay. So what if you never really overcome this habit. I mean, it`s not like it`s the end of the world is it?" What kind of impression are you giving your subconscious? What kind of inner character are you developing? Just how much sincerity is being given to this project? So - really recognize what is meant by an unacceptable habit.

STEP 2: Find an opposite acceptable habit.

If you have read my eBook "Take Control Of Your Life", you will recall the use I make of an orange and an apple occupying the same space at the same point in time on a white plate. It cannot be done, but the mind is so focused on achieving it, that the original thought is replaced.

Replacement therapy is not new. How many times have you heard of people attempting to replace their smoking habits by sucking mints? (I am just waiting for the time when I come across someone who thinks they have cheated by system by sliding a cigarette through the holes of a packet of "Polo's ("LifeSavers" for our American friends)! Although that is a very flippant remark, it does exaggeratingly make my point: replacement therapy, if it is to work, needs to be a truly pleasurable and/or rewarding experience if we are to keep returning to it.

STEP 3: Control the acceptable.

If the replacement therapy is allowed to run rampant, then it just becomes another out of control habit. It may be pleasurable, but in reality it is just another out of control experience.

You cannot control a habit, no matter how pleasurable it is. By it`s very nature, the word "habit" indicates action out of control. What we do is introduce something I call: "resultant substitution".

When a football game isn't going as well as the manager would like or there is a need for a particular player to be replaced, a substitute player takes the field. What is that state of that new player? They are fresh, alert, and ready to play their own game with an eye to helping the team to win. It is likely that they will play using their own unique skills and abilities. Such players do not find themselves on the pitch by accident (not theirs anyway!), but by purposeful positioning. Your substitute needs to appear through purposeful positioning if it is to have full effect. The manager (which would be you), should be in a position to make that decisive choice as to whether or not to leave them to play the game through till the end or changing the substitution should it suit the needs of the game. All the time the control is in the hands of the manager - you, rather than in the control of the opposite team.

Step 4: Offer Reward

As human beings, we are pretty strange. When we catch ourselves doing something we believe to be wrong, then we start beating ourselves up about it. Normally this tends to be an argument that goes on inside our heads. We get really uptight with ourselves, boy do we go through it! Sometimes it can go on for days, maybe even longer. If the judgement has been inflicted upon us, e.g. from others who we hold in regard, we can carry that torment with us for years!

So what are we to do? First of all, discover what forgiveness is. If you have a genuine need to be forgiven, even a perceived need, then this simple principle is so very important to master. Until you do, you will never be able to move forwards. Goodness knows there are enough people out there who are all to keen to be damning in judgement without you joining the queue against yourself!

The second thing to do is to recognise when it works for you - when you actually get it right or resist that previously overpowering habit. I have some bad news for you... you are not perfect! Let that sink in.. You are not perfect! Sometimes you are going to fail in your efforts, but sometimes...maybe quite a distance apart at first, but sometimes you WILL succeed! When you do... reward yourself. Treat yourself in some acceptable way. Something that really builds on the success you have had. This is all to do with association and the mental image of the experience that you form. This is so important as it consolidates your efforts to action.

Step 5: Set A Cut Off Point

I`m not really into football that much, but the analogy works well. Every match, every game, has an end point. Sooner or later it finishes and everybody goes home.

When I was a boy, I owned one of those electric slot-car racing sets. Together with my brother or one of my sisters, we would place those cars side-by-side and hit the throttle. The cars would spring into life and hurtle round the track. Sometimes they would shoot off and crash into the barriers. No matter. We would just pick them up and off they would go again. Round and round they would go, sparks flying as those little pieces of mesh scraped the tracks. These little cars would continue to hurtle around that track again and again until either we got fed up with the game or food was offered!

If we fail to set ourselves some marker - a date by which we will have achieved the required action - then we leave ourselves open to the position of racing around the track of life with no end in sight. We become open to the whims of personal taste rather than specification.

Goals can seem pretty final can`t they? They are firm points in life. Dates, actions, etc all specified in black and white. Here`s a question for you though: Who sets and/or agrees those goals? You do! So guess who is in control of them? That`s right...again, you are! If you find that for whatever reason, that your goals are not reached as and when you had originally planned, don`t go beating yourself around the head about it. As you go along heading towards your goals, keep a good record of what you have done and how you are progressing, what your plans are, etc., and then reset those goals to a new date. The issue is about the journey - progress - rather than simply about your arrival.

Step 6: Watch For Your Signals

What do you know about salesman`s tactics? The kind that gives you a sales pitch and at some point moves in for the close of the sale? How do they know just when to pull it all together and go for your signature on the deal? Buying signals. A trained salesman will watch you like a hawk with an eye that includes your body language, your comments, change of tone, established rapport, etc., etc. We all do it every day our lives. We give out signals that show our acceptance or otherwise of deals that are on the table. When it comes to overcoming your worst habits, there will come a point when you should go for the close. Sew up that deal once and for all.

I used to work in Central London. At the time, I lived out on the edge of London and traveled into work on the London Underground - the "tube" train. Sometimes I would be pretty tired on that journey and heat and the monotony of the journey, I would fall asleep and continue on right past the station that I needed! I failed to get off when I reached my destination. Don`t be like me - in your journey through life, watch for and get off at your destination. Watch out for your signals.

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