Tag Archives: Bad habits

Eleven Ways to Kick Hurtful Habits

Old habits die hard.  Be it smoking, gossiping, raising your temper, pointing out others’ flaws, avoiding responsibility, or getting defensive, when something becomes familiar and comfortable, pathways get set up in the brain and it becomes a knee-jerk behavior. 

Here are a few tips on how to change a bad habit and be a better spouse, family member, or friend:  

1. Become aware of the problem.  When I was training to be a marriage and family therapist at USC, one of the things we would do is film sessions with families.  Then we would sit down with the families and let them watch the tapes.  It was amazing how many people would look at the videos and say, “I can’t believe I do that! I can’t believe I say that! I can’t believe I make those faces!”   It had been tough for them to see before because their behavior was so habitual and normal.  Therefore, when you discover or are confronted with something you do that hurts somebody else, don’t ignore it.

2. Be honest with yourself. Whether you have figured it out by yourself or it was pointed out to you, you have to acknowledge that you have hurt someone else.  You need to take a good look at yourself and admit you have a problem.  That’s the only way you’ll change your actions.

3. Apologize. Apologizing doesn’t just mean saying, “I’m sorry.”  It needs to be followed by, “What can I do to make up for it?”   The answer you get in response will help you find a way to make things right.  Furthermore, you can’t apologize and then do the same thing again. Repeating the hurtful behavior makes your apologies meaningless.

4. Think before you speak.  Before words come out of your mouth, ask yourself, “What do I really want to convey?  How will he or she interpret what I say?”  Anticipate people’s sensitivities. Take time to figure out what you’re going to say in a tactful manner, otherwise, button your lip.  Not everything that is true needs to be spoken.

5. Show empathy.  Instead of saying, “I don’t really understand why they’re getting so upset,” put yourself in your loved one’s shoes and feel what he or she is feeling.  One thing I used to do in private practice and still do with couples on the air is have one person defend the other’s point of view.  For example, if a husband comes home and isn’t very cuddly and friendly, his wife has to adopt his perspective.  She might say, “I had a long day at work and, on top of that, there was horrible traffic coming home.”  And then I do the reverse.  If a husband is complaining about why things aren’t neat when he comes home, he has to take on his wife’s point of view: “I had x number of things to do in addition to taking care of the kids, so I couldn’t make everything perfect.”  It’s amazing what a difference showing some understanding can make.  Just the look on the other person’s face when you defend why they do what they do is priceless.  (Just for fun, try playing this game tonight with your spouse!)                    

6. Control your temper. When you’re about to fly off the handle, remember the old “count to 10″ trick.

7. Practice, practice, practice. It takes about 30 or so repetitions to create a new habit, so stay with it.  As you probably know, one of my hobbies is shooting pool.  What’s fascinating to me is how if I miss a shot and try to do it again thinking I’m doing something different, I’ll hit it the exact same way.  I have to set up the shot seven or eight times until my brain sees it differently.  We’re like that with everything – it takes repetition for your brain to set down a new pattern and become comfortable with it.

8. Listen when others speak.  Instead of getting defensive and assuming everything is a criticism, allow other people to help you recognize certain ways you could improve.  Unless the person is downright mean and nasty, listen to them.  You may think they’re putting you down when they’re really trying to lift you up. 

9. Remember that relationships have to be a win-win.  If one of you loses in a relationship, you both do.  Always trying to “win” an argument is only going to cause more hurt.  For example, when a woman’s husband doesn’t want her to stay at home with their kids, I tell her to say how much more relaxed, loving, and available she’s going to be, and that she’s impressed with him as a man even though it’s going to be a little scary without the extra income.  That way it’s a win-win: he feels elevated and so does she.  If you can’t fix it so both of you feel like you’ve won something, then put the issue away and come back to it another day.

10. Believe in yourself.  You have to believe that you actually can change. Trying is no good – you have to do it!

11. Remind yourself that you want this.  You either want to be a better person or you don’t.  It’s that simple. 

You Don’t Need Self-Esteem to Break a Bad Habit

Do you know how many people have called my show over the last 3 1/2 decades to tell me they could do the right thing in their lives if they only had self-esteem? 

A LOT.

People use low self-esteem as an excuse all the time:

“What made you do this thing instead of another?”
“Low self-esteem.” 

“How come you stayed with a guy who pummeled you?”
 ”Low self-esteem.” 

“How come you quit X, Y or Z?” 
“Low self-esteem.” 

But that answer is wrong, wrong, wrong!  It’s backwards – it’s making bad decisions that creates low self-esteem, not the other way around. 

Healthy self-esteem is like a tennis racket: if you hit the ball too close to the edge, it’s bad, but if you make contact with the sweet spot, it’s perfect.  High self-esteem is “a sweet spot between an unhealthy level of narcissism and harmful self-criticism.”  It’s right in the middle.  However, you don’t need self-esteem to change your actions, habits, or temptations.  

A lot of you have very bad habits, like eating at 10 o’clock at night, not cleaning your teeth, speaking before your think, and succumbing to temptations like cookies, cigarettes, and booze.  But you absolutely do NOT need self-esteem to change any of them.   What you need is a thing that gets put down, dissed, and discounted all the time: good old-fashioned willpower

And where does willpower come from?  You have to pick a motivator.  Your motivators are the values and goals in life that are important to you.  Once you have them lined up, you can change a habit no matter how much self-esteem you have.  Whether it’s dying from continuing to smoke or drink, losing weight, wanting to be a good role model, or being religious, whatever you decide is your motivator has to come out of your head, not out of the universe.  It’s something you decide.  Just ask people who have quit smoking or drinking, and they will tell you it was willpower, not self-esteem that made them quit.  Certainly when they were drunk and had to smoke 135 cigarettes every five minutes, self-esteem wasn’t an issue.

So, it’s all about willpower.  It’s not a big deal if you don’t have self-esteem.  It is not correlated to success, willpower is.  People with willpower have self-control and self-discipline, which helps them build better relationships, take initiative, and sustain their efforts over time.  And when you use willpower to accomplish something, you can say to yourself, “I did that!”  When you can impress yourself by achieving a goal and cheer yourself on, you begin a virtuous cycle instead of a vicious one.  Because if you successfully change a habit, then you give yourself more self-esteem, and it just keeps on going in a circle. 

Here are some steps to activate your willpower:

  • Make the decision to change.
  • Set realistic goals.  Goals can be like inchworms: once you achieve one goal, you move the goalpost, and then, when you achieve the next goal, you move the goalpost again…
  • Activate your willpower by using the thought of your motivator to guide your behavior.
  • Make a specific plan for change or join a program to help you change.
  • Bounce back from setbacks.  Just getting on your own case about a hitch in the road is not useful progress.

 

Don’t Rescue Out-Of-Control Kids

Many modern parents have a very bad habit of coddling their children, ultimately turning them into out-of-control monsters.

Here’s one scenario:  a driver in Florida left the keys in the ignition and the engine running of his 1966 Acura Integra to run inside an Italian restaurant to pick up a take-out order.  That was just too much temptation for a 17 year old, who with his 14 year old buddy, jumped in the car and drove away.  He was followed by owner in a separate car, police were called, a description went out and the two were apprehended post haste.

At the 17 year old’s hearing, his mother told the court his father was serving with the military in Iraq and, basically, her boy was out of control.  The judge set his bail at $25,000, pending trial for felony charges of possession of a stolen vehicle, and a misdemeanor battery charge and several traffic citations.  His mother informed the judge she, indeed, did have the money to meet bail, but she wanted him to stay locked up.

The judge said: “I want to know why there are not more parents like this.  I applaud her for her truthfulness.”  As her errant teen was hauled off to the holding cell, Mom told him “You think about that, while your Dad’s in Iraq!”

This mother did just the right thing.  Her son will suffer the ugly consequences of his disrespectful, out-of-control, arrogant behavior, and it will make an impact.  If he is rescued by Mama with bail and a manipulative lawyer who will say the kid is upset because his dad is in combat, this boy will be further lost into the “Lord of the Flies” scenario.

I remember reading Alfred Hitchcock’s father arranged for him to stay overnight in a jail cell in their English town.  This was entirely prophylactic, as he hadn’t done anything wrong.  Hitchcock reported being so very scared he never, never, never did anything which would get him back there for real.

Hopefully, this young man will have the same reaction, or he’ll be back for a longer stay next time.