‘Old habits die hard’. How to deconstruct bad habits.

We are creatures of habit, and our brains love it. Why? Because it takes the guess work out of what we are doing. So, when we try to change and our brains have got to do a little more thinking (even if it is for the good), we can find it hard. People tend to talk about how to build new habits but I want to talk about the importance of deconstructing an old (usually bad) one.  

When you want to form a new habit typically it will be because you are looking to break or replace another. But I don’t think you should just sweep the old one under the carpet. Because just like putting a plaster on a wound, the wound is still there underneath no matter how many layers you put on top of it. And while plasters help wounds heal, if we seek to understand the source of what hurt us in the first place, we are less likely to do it again. Alas deconstructing an old habit.  ‘Old habits die hard’ is a saying for a reason. 

So, how do we deconstruct a habit that we have held onto for years? Here are a few things I’ve found useful.

Acknowledge that breaking bad habits won’t be easy

When we are trying to change a behaviour or thought pattern that we’ve held onto for a long time, it’s not going to be easy. That is not to say it won’t be possible but you need to be realistic from the offset. It’s also important to understand that habits are not usually just one action or thought. They will be wrapped up in a lot of other things like a ball of elastic bands. At the centre you’ll have the actual habit i.e negative self-talk and wrapped around this might be years of emotions, memories experiences and maybe even traumas. All of which are associated with your habit. In summary, habits are complex and usually hard to break. But it is when we start to understand our habits, we can begin to uncover why we no longer want to engage in them.

Focus on why you want to change

Your WHY is important. Why do you want to change this habit? This is where you can start to unravel the elastic bands that I referred to earlier. Sometimes ‘why’ can be quite a big overwhelming question, so let’s break it down…  

Think about the way you feel when doing said habit. Think about the times where it’s not served you, and the emotions that have come up. Think about the ways your life will be better when these thoughts, feelings and emotions are not there anymore. Once you start to answer some of these you’ll start to pick apart (deconstruct) your habit(s), and help break the cycle and identify triggers that are keeping you swept up in it.

Let go of the ‘all or nothing’ mindset

Earlier I referred to the saying ‘old habits die hard’. The reason I believe this to be true is because it’s easier to live in a polarised world (i.e we do or we don’t do something), rather than accepting that sometimes we live in the middle, the gray area’ is what I like to refer to it as.  

When it comes to changing our habits, it’s difficult to wake up one day and decide we will never do it again and follow through with this. Some people can go cold turkey, and I admire those who can but the majority of us know what it’s like to try the all or nothing approach. This is why deconstructing an old habit is important, so you can work through why you want to change it. Because when we truly know why we do something or why we no longer want to, it gives us the motivation to keep going. Also, remember no one is perfect and slip ups do happen, and it’s important to forgive ourselves when we do.  

Good or bad our habits make up our past and it’s impossible to re write that. However, you can take what you’ve learnt from the past (by reflecting and journaling) and start to carve out what you’ll do differently in the future.

Slip ups happen because no one is perfect

Repeat after me, no one is perfect. We slip up, we make mistakes, we say we are going to do something and then we don’t, hey we are all human. Remember when you are making a change and breaking out of an old habit, you are essentially rewiring pathways in your brains. Some of these have been strengthened over years and years. Would you expect yourself to be fluent in a language after just a few lessons? No. So don’t beat yourself up if you slip up. The important thing is always the direction and as long as you’ve got your eyes on the road and not in the rear view mirror you’re going the right way.