Old Habits Die Hard
The one thing I’ve noticed lately is how habitual our lives are. In fact, it seems we are run by pre-programmed thoughts and reactions that play without our awareness. For instance, our morning routine is one we duplicate with laser-like precision, repeating the pattern without thought, day in and day out. Get up, put the coffee on, shower, get the coffee, put on makeup, do hair, dress, grab a bowl of cereal and head out the door. Every day. The same way. Check to see if this is true for you. Notice if you fluctuate from your morning habits. Most likely, you don’t.
Another example of repetitive patterns is the way in which an argument starts between significant others. A single word can set off a shouting match and create enough animosity and resentment to last a lifetime. But it starts and ends the same way every time. Watch this in your arguments to see if this is the case for you.
I’ll give you an example in my life that I’ve observed. In my relationship, a conversation starts off in an innocuous way but often turns judgmental and nasty quickly. It’s an attack-defend relationship. My partner attacks and I defend. This isn’t just an argument; it’s a habit and we need each other to make it work. This is the gift of partners and family members who help us see what we believe about ourselves more than anyone or anything else. Use this gift to your advantage to uncover unhappy patterns.
I say above that my partner and I need each other to make it work. What I mean by this is that there’s no one to attack without someone who defends at the drop of a hat. Let me explain further. In a world where each of us feels less than valuable, capable or lovable (i.e., not good enough), we are forced to find ways to feel valuable, capable and loved. Unfortunately, nothing ever really works. No matter what we say or do, we seem to continue believing we are inadequate. The attack-defend partnership is nothing more than a way to keep each of our beliefs of in adequacy in place. We don’t always need someone else for this to work since we can play out an attack-defend routine in our own mind, without the assistance of outside forces.
My point to all of this is to show that we habitually go throughout the day, often without questioning what we are doing or saying. Some habits are helpful, some neutral and some are downright stressful, causing us repeated unhappiness in our lives. Observing the habits that cause us stress or unhappiness with more discerning eyes and ears allows us to see what needs adjusted. The adjustments can lead to instant happiness. Everything has a silver lining and habits are no exception as we can attest to the fact that habits can be broken. This is great news! Let’s get started!
Five Habits You Can Break Today
During my research for this article, a pattern emerged. It seemed that unhappy people generally have similar habits that make them unhappy. Without these habits, it makes sense that happiness would return. Below are five such habits, though you may notice others in your life. Let’s break them starting today!
- Seeing everything as the worst-case scenario/seeing the worst in everyone – I lumped these two together since they seem to go hand-in-hand. Events are just things happening. People are who they are. In truth, nothing really needs much said about it. However, we tend to give our opinion about what happened in a situation or how a person should live their life. The majority of this is unhappy talk. We are often angry, self-serving and judgmental as we tell stories that have a detrimental end to them about the situation or the person. The anger, self-proclaiming and judgments are all red flags to take notice that this may be a habit that ultimately makes you personally unhappy. Without such stories, wouldn’t you just be happy?
- Bringing the past into the now – So many times we act as if nothing is ever going to change. It’s a doom and gloom story, indeed. We take the unhappy past and drag it with us into the now, making that unhappy, too. In doing this, not only are we happy, but we are stuck in a past that no longer exists. And we are unhappy with our creation of the present moment, but we keep repeating the process. The past is over. Now is now. Let life flow and be in the moment. This is where happiness lives.
- Making up an unhappy future – Similar to number two above, we hardly spend any time in the only moment that exists as we make up unhappy stories about the future. We don’t have to do this—make up a fake future to feel bad about. The truth is, none of us knows what the future will bring (not that there is a future, but that’s a topic for another article). We cannot predict it. However, when we seem to think we can, we often take a dark, fearful view and then live with the unhappiness of our own creation. A happy future is just as likely.
- Blowing things out of proportion – This is where the phrase, mountain out of a molehill was coined. When we blow things out of proportion, we put ourselves in a stressful position. This equals unhappiness. Blowing things out of proportion is sensationalism. Why do we need the sensationalism? Perhaps anything less just feels like we aren’t living. Maybe we need the drama? Maybe we need the attention? Whatever it is, unhappy people take a kernel of truth and turn it into a big production. The personal resources used for this shenanigan is beyond measure when it comes to how the body reacts to this fake rendition of an event. Take the stress off and tell the story as it is. It might be boring, but your body will thank you, your health will improve and you’ll be happier.
- Not communicating – When we don’t communicate what we really want and how we really feel, we are unhappy. For years, I have been a massive people pleaser, always to my detriment. The joy I got from helping others was short-lived by the stress of people pleasing in hopes of being recognized, increasing my self-esteem and being loved. I’d say YES when I really meant NO. I didn’t communicate my true needs, interests and wishes because I believed I wouldn’t be good enough or loved if I did. That meant death for me. However, those days are over, mostly. We must communicate to all people, not just some, how we want to live, what we want to do and not do and how we want to be treated. Anything less spells unhappiness for us. It is time to speak up!
The “How To” on Breaking Habits
One might wonder just how our unhappy habits came to be. The answer is simple. They just happened. Of course, we can always trace our perfectionism to a parent or our fear of something to an event. But if we go beyond what we see on the surface, we get closer to the truth. All that happened is that we did something over and over and eventually, through repetition, it became a habit.
Breaking a habit is like gaining a habit. To begin with, we can become aware of our unhappy habits. Those are the ones that cause us stress through resentment, separation, judgments and more. These are our red flags. Red flags help us notice, or become aware of, which habits make us unhappy. Next, when the habit shows itself to you in a conversation or situation, know clearly that you don’t have to do what you have always done before. Now, you can do something different. It is your birthright to do so, which means you have the power you need to break unhappy habits. Doing something different means doing something that breaks the cycle of unhappiness. You may not know what to do right away, but you know one thing for certain—you don’t have to do what you have been doing. That alone begins the unhappy habit removal process.
Let’s take my attack-defend routine as an example of what this process looks like. When a simple conversation turns sour with judgment, blame or something else that I automatically begin defending, I now get up and walk away. My red flag doesn’t have to do with what the other person is saying or doing. No, my red flag is my reaction—my defending—that is my cue to do something different than I have done in the past. And now, I don’t stay and defend. I have nothing to defend. The moment I hear defense in me, I simply say, “I am not interested in path this conversation has just taken. I’m walking away.” This may break my partner’s habit of attacking, but that’s not really my business. My focus is on me and my unhappiness, not my partner’s.
Over the years, we have developed and broken hundreds of habits. Some were notable, most were not. What this shows is that we have the power to break unhappy habits. It may take a little time, but the process is simple: Become aware of habits that create unhappiness and then do something different each time. The more we notice and do something different, the more the old, unhappy habit diminishes until it finally disappears. What remains is happiness.
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