Learn how noticing when your habits become automatic, identifying daily triggers, and practicing mindful awareness can help you transform habits into choices.
Most of the time, when we engage in unhealthy habits, we do it automatically. In fact, our minds are generally preoccupied with thinking of something else while we pick up a cigarette, finish off a bag of chips, have that extra drink of alcohol, or settle on the couch to watch TV rather than go for a walk.
Automatic behaviors are largely unconscious, meaning we don’t think about them. We often don’t even notice that we are doing them.
Some people find they can stop an unhealthy habit cold turkey. For most of us, though, it takes a conscious process over time. The first step in this process is to practice mindful awareness. Because these habits largely occur automatically and unconsciously, we need to regain our ability to notice and to be present with what we are doing, when we are doing it, and without self-judgment or criticism.
Without changing the unhealthy habit pattern, we simply bring awareness to it. We smoke the entire cigarette or eat the whole bag of chips while being present with the activity and the sensations or what we are doing. It’s almost as if we subconsciously push our awareness aside and do not notice when we do something that conflicts with our values or what we most want for our health and well-being.
Many people find that simply deciding to engage in the habit with full awareness lessens the frequency and duration of their unhealthy patterns. By turning back around with a kind and compassionate awareness, we can notice the full experience of the habit in which we are engaged.
Our habits are often tied to the events of our day. For example, we pick up a cigarette after a meal or as we get into the car, eat more food than we really want or need while conversing, and settle on the couch to watch TV simultaneously every day after work.
In addition to being tied to everyday events, these habits are often tied to emotional triggers. We eat when sad, angry, depressed, lonely, bored, or excited. We tend to grab a drink or a cigarette in the same way.
Eventually, with practice, we urge to engage in the habit even before we do it. Noticing the urge and learning to ride the wave of discomfort when an urge develops gives us time to choose to engage in the habit. We can experience the urge without engaging in the habit when we know this.
The mind seeks pleasure and avoids pain as a survival mechanism. The problem is that the mind often focuses on the short-term pain of not giving in to an urge.
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