Tuesdays With Laura: Letting go of Bad Habits With a Completely Different Approach

New research has found that the best way to let go of bad habits is to go easy on ourselves. 

I always associated physical challenges and bad habit curbing to tough self-discipline and strict structural changes. Like a building, stiff and straight, I thought it was all about fitting into a new mold and leaving out the habits I hated about myself, rather than learning how to allow myself to be and accept myself as I am.

It seems counter-intuitive to think that by accepting ourselves as we are we can change what we do, but surprisingly, new research shows that a different, more easy-on-ourselves kind of approach is in fact more effective.

The thing is, when we are trying to change a bad habit and we fail, as we are bound to initially because we are human and imperfect, we tend to go really hard on ourselves. The inner dialogue might go something like: “Ugh, I suck at this. This is going terribly. Why did I even try this? I just can’t do it. Again? Really?” We kick ourselves harder than we would ever talk to anyone else. Think about it. If a friend comes to you for comfort after messing up big time, what do you say? do you put them down even more? or do you help them feel better and to look at the situation in a more positive light? Probably the latter, otherwise your friends wouldn’t go to you for comfort. But when it comes to us helping ourselves, we can become harsh and demanding with complete disregard of our needs and feelings. And that, is about the most inefficient approach.

If instead of being hard on ourselves we were a little more self-compassionate when we fail to hold off on the fried food along with that beer, or keep snoozing the alarm clock rather than going out for a run or making it to Yoga class, we could actually prompt real change.

Photo taken from fitnessglo.com

It might seem like this self-compassion concept is borderline indulgent and an excuse to be slackers, but think of it this way. When you are hard on yourself you’re discouraging your brain. Hence the logic behind positive feedback and reward systems; if we feel like we’re doing it right we will feel encouraged to continue. But if we feel bad and like a failure, the tendency is to give up. So by going easier on ourselves and cultivating self-love and self-compassion we actually start to believe we are doing a great job and continue to get the energy needed to change our bad habits.

Let’s look it it this way. My personal experience (and failure) has to do with starting my day with Yoga or a run before going to work. This has been my goal for some time and every once in a while I actually do it, but most mornings I hit the snooze button and go back to sleep. I usually beat myself up for it because despite knowing how good I’d feel if I started my day being active, I still fail to do it. So I am not only not doing what I enjoy, I am also feeling bad the rest of the day for having failed at a simple task. Therefore I feel with even less energy the following day to get out of bed an hour earlier. (A whole day of self-loathing can be exhausting).

But now that I’ve been cutting myself some slack, I’ve been building a different relationship with mind. I am kind with myself and I show myself some love and compassion, to the point where not getting up and at least stretching before my shower feels like I am jipping myself. My mind and I are allies now, rather than two sides of the battle. And I am begining to see the effects.

Photo taken from kristencard.blogspot.com

So, try it for a week. Consider the habit you’ve been trying to change and try to notice how you talk to yourself when you fail. Try to remember self-love and self-compassion and change the dialogue in your head. Tell yourself  “It’s OK, I can try it again.” or take a deep breath and remember how awesome your body is and how you love it so much so that cigarette makes a little less sense, or the morning trail becomes more appealing.

Further reading:

Leading expert on self-compassion

The Role of Self-Compassion in Development:
A Healthier Way to Relate to Oneself
 Research paper

Practical approach to eliminating bad habits 


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