March 20, 2014

3 Ways to Change Bad Habits. ~ Pamela Mooman


Yes, I smoke. Or at least I did, up until an hour ago.

I have practiced Yoga all of my life, and my diet is organic vegetarian—in fact, mostly vegan (I like honey.). Yet I am a smoker.

I have watched my father’s body simply stop working (he smoked three packs a day for 53 years), seen two aunts die of lung cancer (neither ever smoked), and I have been told that smoking may have contributed to the pre-cancerous cells found in my cervix almost 18 months ago. Yet I smoke.

Nicotine is the addictive substance found in Solanaceae plants of the notoriously poisonous nightshade family. It is classified as a stimulant and chemically as a strong parasympathomimetic alkaloid. Combined with its physically addicting properties, nicotine addiction is usually practiced with specific social and psychological behaviors that put it on a par with heroin and cocaine addictions and also make it, according to the American Heart Association, one of the hardest addictions to beat.

I like a challenge. But I do not like being a slave to anyone or anything.

A behavior becomes automatic—a habit—in three to four weeks. 28 days to freedom. Addicts count the minutes and the seconds, too.

There is nothing to quite replace smoking. For someone with odd ideas about food, eating, and weight, replacing cigarettes with salty snacks is out of the question. I have some other thoughts, though.

Just as fragrance is highly individualized—you may hate a perfume that smells great on me—bad-habit substitutes will be personal. For me to quit smoking, for example, I have baby carrots and celery sticks handy, along with an old-fashioned wood pencil (I can hold it and chew on it.).

So even though displacing particular habits with others may be a challenge, there are specific methods and actions that can help banish old, harmful habits. Here are three.


1. Decide.

Focused intent is vital to success in developing healthier, more nurturing habits. Razor-sharp goals will be necessary when, as described by my friend who gave me a kitten after I stopped drinking and told me she was my sober cat, “waves of cravings” come. “Just march them through the house and out the door,” he said. Another friend put it this way: “You’ll want to tear your hair out.”

To leave harmful habits behind, we must have personal intent focused clearly on a specific goal. Socrates advised that the focus should be on building the new, rather than fighting the old. Yet I will keep my battle gear handy for the next month.


2. Check your motives.

Why are certain habits and behaviors no longer acceptable? Are they being let go for personal reasons or to please someone else?

For me, the more photos of diseased lungs you show me, the more likely I am to fire up a smoke. I have to decide it is time for me—me—to quit smoking. And trying to quit before I decide I am ready, before I am fully committed to making the effort to stay stopped, will only result in frustration and disappointment.

My behavior must be altered for me, because I am ready, because I have decided it is time for a new behavior. Only then will it sink into my bones.


3. Start over as often as necessary.

I can start my day over whenever I want, whenever I need, as many times as is necessary in order to move forward. While I am trying to form a new habit and leave behind old, hurtful behaviors, should I slip, I do not have to give up and try again some other time. I can decide, right then and there, in that very moment, that I am ready to change this behavior, and that I will do so this time. Then renew the effort, the commitment, the decision.


So here comes a wave, an urge, a craving…intense…fire-stoked desire…Now…it…is passed. As I was saying, yes, I used to smoke.


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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photos: Pixabay, elephant journal archives

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