Why is changing your habits so difficult?

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A habit is any behaviour or action that we have repeated often enough that now we have started doing it subconsciously. These can be compulsory and often go unnoticed by the person who is doing these, and they only become aware of it when it is pointed out by another person. If they go unnoticed for a long time, habits can form specific neural pathways so that we do not even have to be thinking about them to do them. This is why old habits are hard to break, and new habits are so hard to form.

Habits can be both desirable and undesirable. For instance, exercising is a good habit. It helps us remain fit and healthy. On the other hand, many people also have bad habits such as smoking, drinking. These are undesirable habits that you may want to get rid of but are unable to.

Why is changing habits so hard?

Changing our behaviour often needs self-engineered life plans and goals. Unless you have developed a diagnosable disorder such as addiction, you will not be able to find an exact layout for developing new habits and ridding the old ones that are exactly perfect for you. Some of the reasons behaviour or habit change is challenging is because:

  • We are often motivated by our negative emotions instead of positive ones. Whether it is about getting in shape or quitting an undesirable habit like smoking or drinking, most people are motivated by their shame, fear, and guilt. Many people believe that these emotions are perfect for eliciting behavioral change; however, we need to learn that real change comes from positive emotions and positive thinking.

  • Instead of moving towards our goal incrementally, we try to go the all-or-nothing route. This can often make the person feel overwhelmed and make them feel as if their goal is unreachable. We need to learn to progress step by step instead of going to it all at once.
  • Many people try changing too much all at once instead of taking it one by one. Once they become aware of their negative behaviors or habits, many people try to change all at once and get rid of all these habits together. This can also overwhelm a person and lead to feel discouraged and abandon their goal.
  • Many people, while trying to change their habits, forget that it is a process and that it takes time. Failure is a given, and you always fail more in life than you succeed. Your failure will provide you with more insights into how you might succeed in the future. So remember to not be afraid of failing; learn from your failures and try again.

The six stages you may go through during your behavior change process are:

  • Precontemplation: Precontemplation is the stage of the process where you haven’t even begun actively thinking about making a change. Most people in precontemplation stage are in denial and do not even necessarily understand that their behavior can be damaging to them. They claim that they can quit at any time, and their behavior is not a problem. It is very necessary for you to question yourself in this stage to understand if you have any damaging behavior or not, and how you can try to rid yourself of them.
  • Contemplation: This is the stage where people begin to think about making a change actively. During this stage, you should make a list of pros and cons detailing how your life may be affected by keeping or changing your behavior. You must also make a list of all the triggers or stressors in your life that are making you keep your habit so that you can try to start removing them from your life.

  • Preparation: If you are actually serious about changing your behavior, then you need to prepare yourself well. Begin with making small but solid changes in your life that can highlight your next steps in your journey. If you want the change to be long lasting, then try to find out as much information as you can about your behavior and how it can be changed.
  • Action: This is the main step that outlines your journey to habit change. You need to actually take action to change your behavior instead of making empty statements of promise. If you do not act, then you will start your journey. Make small goals and try to list out all the positive strides you made in the day towards achieving your goal at the end of the day.

  • Maintenance: Once you have made even a tiny change in your life, you need to remind yourself to keep following it till your new behavior also becomes a habit for you. As said earlier, not all habits are bad. You can just try to replace your bad habits with good ones.
  • Relapse: Relapse is very common, especially for deep-seated habits. Do not be discouraged. Identify the reason that you relapsed and start your journey anew. It is vital that you learn from your mistakes and do not repeat them again.

If you are struggling with a bad habit and want to change but are unable to, we can help you. Hopecare India is home to the best counsellors in Delhi, who can help you in getting rid of your addictions.

Author: Dr. Deepak Raheja

Hope Care established under the guidance of Dr. Deepak Raheja, President at Delhi Psychiatric Society is a psychiatric center of excellence that endeavors to restore hope and well-being to individuals and families afflicted by mental ill-health through comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation services. Hopecare seeks to set benchmarks in innovative programs in treatment, care, and education.

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