Three Critical Steps to Breaking Bad Habits

Bad habits. We all have them. Some of them are addictions that are particularly well known, like smoking cigarettes, drinking too much alcohol, eating poorly, or living one’s life by proxy through social media.

For Judson Brewer, learning to identify and stop bad habits, and swap them for beneficial ones instead, is the focus of his distinguished career. Brewer is the director of research at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. For him, the answer is mindfulness. Mindfulness changes our way of reacting to stressful situations.

Here are my ultimate three steps to breaking bad habits, fueled by more than two decades of experience leading teams, and mentoring and guiding our LegalShield associates. Keep in mind that our lives are a work in progress. We all have tough days and occasional setbacks. Your mind has to arrive at the destination first. Remembering these rules can help set our mind in the right direction and establish better ways of coping.

Step 1:

Recognize that bad habits are merely a way of coping with a stressful situation. It does not fix an underlying issue. Whether you bite your nails or devour French fries, it doesn’t matter because the brain processes these actions as the same thing. There’s a trigger and then a behavioral response that feels like a reward. You must realize that your bad habit is simply coping with something else; it’s a reflex, an instinctive reaction. You find yourself on autopilot, not in control. As soon as you realize that you are in control, then you can start to make a difference. Greasy fried potatoes are seductive indeed, but they are no match for the mind.

Step 2: 

Pay attention to how you are feeling. Great leaders need an elevated sense of self awareness. Don’t judge yourself; this is important. This is not an exercise in zeroing in on your flaws. It’s about being intuitive, empathetic and honest with yourself. Notice what you are feeling and what are you worried about. It is shocking how often we fall into a state of exponential negativity because we compound our fears. For instance, if you’re worried about being worried – then all you are is super worried! When we gain a heightened awareness of our feelings, we begin to realize that bad habits are merely faux solutions; they’re useless and get in the way of helping to actually fix the problem. You don’t really feel any better after you eat that gallon of ice cream or smoke a lot of cigarettes. This realization is the key; it is what will help to break the cycle.

Step 3: RAIN:

Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Note. Recognize the bad habit. Dealing with an issue is impossible to do if you don’t realize that it’s there in the first place. Accept the existence of a bad habit. This doesn’t mean give in and move on, but accept that the craving is there.  For many of us, bad habits translate to a disconnect from reality. We crave the temporary relief from a hard day, so we scroll Facebook mindlessly, drink alcohol, or just sit on the couch flipping through television stations. Don’t try to ignore it; don’t try to distract yourself. Don’t even try to fight it. Accept it and then take a measurable step to improve. If you improve even by one percent every day, then eventually you will reach your goal. When you find yourself reaching for the ice cream – recognize it, accept it. Next, investigate the bad habit. Normally, you deal with bad habits by simply trying to brush them under the rug as quickly as possible.  The mindfulness strategy does the opposite; you get curious and pull those bad habits out for some forensic analysis.  How does your body feel the moment you want to “do” the bad habit? How do you feel? Is your action really fixing how you feel? Pay close attention. Finally, take note of what you are feeling. I’m an advocate of daily journaling. Write down how you feel; when you give it a name, your brain begins to calm down.  Use a single word or a short phrase to label what it is you’re feeling and thinking. “I have restlessness in my stomach.” “I’m having a rising sensation of anxiety.” “I’ve got a burning sensation.” Write down how you feel before you have this craving to begin. Maybe you feel sadness or loneliness. If you get distracted, return to the investigation by repeating the question. Shout out it out, if you must. What does my body feel like right now? If you can write it out until it is completely gone, then you’re making progress.

Implementing mindfulness into your life is a huge step in breaking bad habits and fixing, not coping, with underlying issues in your life. Good habits come from a vision and are attained through action and awareness. For a company like LegalShield, the vision of our founder Harland Stonecipher, who believed in equal access to legal protection, led him to pioneer a new way to insure people against legal issues. His vision lives in our hearts and guides our actions. At Legalshield we know that together, truly being together and supporting and loving each other, the best is yet to come.

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