Tag Archives: Change

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. 

How to Be Happy

I think you have to be on a valium drip to be happy all the time.  For the sake of full discloser, I’ll tell you that I’m certainly not happy every second of the day.  However, your motive should be trying to be happy.

Being in a good mood or having a peppy personality is not a disposition you are born with or without.  You have options and choices, which I’ve proved many times on my radio program.  I’ve had so many callers who were initially negative, but by the end of our discussion, they were laughing.  What happened?

Their mood changed.

Your level of happiness is a learned skill.  A lot of you come from a background where your family was warm, happy, cheerful, and supportive, so you’ve learned those skills.  However, some of you haven’t.  Some of you are just too lazy to learn them, or you have been given too many perks for being mopey.  For me, I grew up in a house where everybody was always annoyed.  My parents didn’t walk around being cheerful and pleasant.  So, I didn’t learn those skills.  Nevertheless, I sure learned how dangerous the world could be by just watching them arguing and complaining.  It was horrible.

So, what are some of these skills?

First, you can only have one thought at a time.   I had a caller who was beaten by his dad all the time while he was growing up.  He had come to associate physicality with something bad.  On the air, I had him close his eyes and go right back into one of those experiences where his dad was beating him.  You could hear his breathing change.  But then I asked him to think about his wife sitting next to him and imagine her touching his face softly.  He started tearing up.  We did this back and forth three times to prove that he could put his head anywhere he wanted to.

He learned that he needed to have only one thought in his mind at one time, and that’s true for all of us.  You decide what your thought is going to be.  If you start thinking about all the horrible things that might happen, then they may happen.  However, if you put your thoughts toward how you are going to handle something, you can immobilize your fear.

Another essential part of being happy is to think positively.  The negative stuff gets replaced when you see the outcome positively.  And it’s also very important for you to sometimes take your brain out of an action and allow your body to do what it knows it needs to do.  For example, when you’re having sex with your spouse, your body knows what it needs to do.   That’s why I tell people to fantasize and go wherever they want to go.  Just disengage your brain.

In order to be happy, you also need to be motivated about something.  This is where being a maniac comes into play (I think the happiest people are maniacs, and I don’t mean it in a psychiatric sense).  You have to be a maniac on a mission.  What is it you want to make happen?  When you dive into something with a lot of energy, optimism, and commitment, your life will be happier.  People without a purpose are not happy people.  Wishy-washy people are never happy and they are not successful.  You have to be able to take risks and make decisions.  If you take a risk and you fail, then you take another risk.   If you take a risk and it was a mistake, then you repair it and do it again.   You have to have strong ambitions about something (and I’m not talking about making a lot of money – that usually doesn’t work).

You also need to have the gumption to make changes from where you are now.  A lot of people like to stay in their comfort zones or in their familiar surroundings.  A lack of familiarity makes them uncomfortable, and a lot of times people try to stay comfortable even if it’s bad, stupid, or destructive.  But just because you’re familiar with something, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get anywhere with it.

Lastly, you have to be tenacious.  Life requires persistence.  The people who are ultimately successful at being happy are the ones who can delay happiness.  For example, people who shack up do it because they want the gratification of having a relationship without the work of building one.  They think, “I want my gratification now.  I don’t want to work slowly in a respectful, modest way and take my time.  I want sex now.  I want to feel like I’m intimate and committed now.”  However, that’s when everything blows up.  Kids who grab the marshmallow are not the happiest – the ones who earn it are.

If you want to be loved, you have to earn it.  Jumping in bed instantly, shacking up, and being ridiculous doesn’t earn love.  If you want to be loved, you’re going to have to take the time to build love, awe, and respect.  People who are impulsive and refuse to delay gratification just can’t keep plugging.  That’s why their relationships and their businesses don’t work out because it takes years sometimes with no gratification whatsoever to build something that can sustain itself.  If you look at orthodox versions of various religions, it’s no surprise to see practices like couples not holding hands until after they’re married.  They delay physical gratification to learn about each other and become more mature.  They earn their relationships, and THEN they get the cherry on top.