Old Habits Die Hard
by Paul Wolf
Here's the hard, cold reality of any resolution: Commitment to change doesn't ensure that it will come painlessly.
The reason is simple. Old habits die hard. Even relatively innocuous habits � from your 3 p.m. Mars Bar fix to your ritual after-hours channel surfing � share traits with more serious addictions, like taking drugs, says Kathleen Burton, a cognitive therapist who specializes in substance abuse.
|Stopped at the crossroads? Let our road map show you the way...
|As you adjust to your new resolution, you need:
Toughness � to accept discomfort in those early stages
|Patience � to wait for the time when the discomfort has gone
|Imagination � to see how the new behavior can become normal
|Clarity � to see the virtue in something beyond the immediate pain/pleasure continuum
The compulsion to act "in spite of my better judgment" is always the central issue when turning over a new leaf, she says.
Consider Myles Schwartz's goal of giving up chocolate. "When I was trying to give it up, I would eat 10 pieces and know the whole time I am doing the wrong thing," says Schwartz, a human resource manager from New Jersey. Afterward, he'd suffer through hours of sneezing and headaches.
At first, a new way of doing things � giving up salty foods, waking up early to meditate � can seem alien and uncomfortable, Burton says. The phrase, "I can't do this," keeps springing to mind. You mistake the difficult for the impossible.
New habits feel much better after you've worn them a while, Burton says.
"Giving something up can feel like someone dying," Schwartz says. "You have to get used to the new reality, which you don't like." But soon enough, he adds, you realize you're going to be fine.
Schwartz kicked his chocolate habit by giving it up altogether. Now he says he can go months without thinking of his once-favorite food.
Naturally, the more sensible your goals are, the more likely your trial period will be less of a trial. But even a very reasonable resolution can cause some mental storms. According to Burton, we often forget that conscious thoughts are only a small piece of the behavior puzzle.
Even simple cues � noticing the time, looking at the TV � can cause setbacks. For example, if every time you walk the dog you find yourself craving a latte from the local caf�you may need to change your route in order to kick the coffee habit. Knowing what your triggers are is important to making change.
Ultimately, breaking habits boils down to a simple formula: awareness plus time. If Schwartz can live without his beloved chocolate, there may be hope for the rest of us.
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