I have a friend who, only just recently, began smoking again after a two year break. I asked him what made him return back to his ‘old friends’? He said that it was a string of crappy events which individually would have sailed past his ‘why me’ radar, but collectively sent the whole control tower crashing down. He broke up with his partner, his dad was diagnosed with cancer, his tenants were suing him and business was slow. Fair enough I thought. I then remembered a trip I once took to the Northern Territory. I saw lots of really big Crocodiles. Amazing creatures. They lie motionless underwater with their two eyes just breaking the surface. They wait and wait with precision patience until their next meal is within striking range and then with a breathtaking snap of their powerful jaws….Bam!
Bad habits are never really shed from our lives…..they just wait under our skin surface and when things turn bad – at our weakest moments – they strike. We’ve all been there. Eating too much, drinking too much, buying too many shoes…….
All habits have three common elements – a cue, a routine and a reward. The fact is that our bad habits don’t define us and we can alter them and regain control. Research reveals that in all habits the cue (what ‘brings on’ the habit ie sight, smell, feel etc) and the reward (feeling as a result of following through the habit) is difficult to change. They are the constants in this little vicious triangle. What we do have control over is the routine: the series of actions which when persued finishes at the reward.
Back to my friend. As a result of his catastrophic chain of events (cue) his smoking habit was back with avengance and was again part of his life. He felt embarrassed and beaten. We spoke about the cue-routine-reward loop and discussed ways in which he could begin to change his routine.
A strategy which worked for him in the past was incorporating activity to warn off the craving. When cravings were strong he used diversion tactics – called a friend, played the piano, wrote. The thing which worked best was physical activity – a short brisk walk, step ups….anything which allowed more oxygen to the body and brain. Next thing he knew the cravings had eased and he’d won the tiny inner battle – until next time (you didn’t think it was that easy did you). Win enough battles and you’ll win the war. Guaranteed.
Its my belief that you can – with willpower and a plan – change bad habits to good. however, the next step up – addiction – is a serious condition which needs professional intervention. If you feel that your bad habits are out of control you owe it to yourself to seek treatment.
So if you are struggling with a bad habit that you just can’t seem to shake, incorporate physical activity when the cravings come knocking and you’ll be sure to keep the Crocs from snapping at your heels.