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A Process For Changing Habits

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If we were to breakdown the process of changing a habit into a step-by-step pattern it might go something like this...

Step 1: Develop presence of awareness so that when encountering a sensation, one does not automatically react to it.

Sometimes if we react emotionally, rather than thinking and responding deliberately to the things that we sense, we can get stuck in a cycle of "reacting to our reactions" so to speak. This is often what sustains a habit, no matter what it may be. Whether it is a craving for some kind of stimulation (such as food, sex, etc.), or even something more abstract (like seeking out a specific kind of information, but only because we interpret it as "validating" our own point of view).

In short, we need to slow down this cascade of events, of sensation leading to an emotional reaction, to become fully aware of the fact that we are reacting habitually rather than intentionally.

Step 2: Once we are fully aware of the sensation and what triggered it, then we can ask ourselves what purpose does our emotional reaction serve. It is not enough to merely stew in the feeling, or to push it aside without thinking about its cause. There are two things that are helpful to keep in mind while we do this...

Point #1: There is a range in quality. Not all habits are necessarily divided into "good" and "bad". For example, sometimes people regularly eat at a specific time because they interpret it as something "stabilizing" in an otherwise seemingly chaotic day. This is "good". Where this habit becomes "bad" is when the same person feels excessive agitation that ruins their whole day because their schedule starts to become inflexible and normal life events seem to be continually interrupting it.

Point #2: There is a distinct difference between a want and a need, and both can change depending upon the circumstance. For example, sometimes we are not being "lazy" by taking that extra hour of sleep. Our body is just crying out that it needs rest to regenerate. This is a legitimate need. However, we must be very cautious in determining this because sometimes a destructive habit is rationalized into continuing.

This can often be remedied by honestly asking ourselves a few questions, mainly:

"What personal need am I trying to fulfill? Is it really a need?" and "Is this process of trying to fulfill that need truly working towards the benefit of myself and others?"

It is very important to realize that sometimes we cultivate "wants" that are actually hurting ourselves and others, even if they seem innocuous to us. Just because something "feels good" or we are capable of doing something does not mean that we should do it. As an extreme example, even a drug addict enjoys what they do. However, all the while they are slowly killing themselves and breaking the hearts of the people who care about them.

Step 3: Now that we understand its purpose, we can respond in a way that is effective. What kind of response will be most effective can change depending upon the individual and their situation.

For some, they will remove the stimulus altogether because they realize that it does not serve them. For example, sometimes people go "cold turkey" on things like junk food, smoking, drinking, pornography, promiscuous sex, etc. because their reason for not doing it is so strong for them. Instead of seeking those things out as they once had, they now purposely try to avoid them and anything that would lead them back down that path.

For others, they might need to get more information (or even assistance from others) in order to start to approach the situation differently. This is especially the case when the triggers seem unavoidable and/or overwhelming. There is nothing "wrong", "shameful", or "weak" about asking for help whenever we truly need it. We just need to be sincere in seeking real help and dedicated to following through with it when we do finally encounter it.

Further, sometimes we need a point of reference that is "transcendent" (i.e.: beyond our individual limitations as a physical human being). Surrendering to this "higher purpose" is where many find the strength to continue and change for the better.

You might notice that, no matter what the situation is, there are usually two things present that lead to lasting change:

1. A constructive reason for changing that is both clear and deeply meaningful for that individual
2. A constructive process that completely replaces any destructive one

The reason has to be powerful enough that the person won't abandon the process of enacting it only part of the way through, and the process itself has to be comprehensive enough to be free of gaps or inconsistencies that can inhibit its effectiveness.

The former is often more primary than the latter. This is because a process can be adapted, refined, and/or wholly changed as more is learned, but if we have no clear purpose for doing something, then we aren't even likely to begin.

So, in summary:
1. Pause Without Reacting
2. Carefully Reflect On Purpose
3. Respond Accordingly

It need not be a slow and painful process. Over time, we learn to take sincere pleasure in that which is beneficial to both ourselves and others, continually experiencing gratitude for each constructive moment.

Thank you for reading! ♥