We will probably remember this year as one that made us collectively realise how unpredictable life is, how fragile human existence is, and how chaotic this world can be. The truth is that external circumstances are hardly ever in our control, but there is a powerful tool in our control – our habits. Human beings are, after all, creatures of habit.
So what are habits? Habits are the small decisions we make, and the actions we perform repeatedly. They are somewhat fixed ways of behaving, thinking and acting set due to regular practice.
Some are deemed positive because they bring us desirable results, like making our beds in the morning, playing sports or reading self-development books. On the other hand, some habits can be harmful to our wellbeing, like substance abuse, emotional outbursts or overeating.
These habits can be hard to break, as we fall into loops and keep repeating them without being mindful of them. But there is often a moment of reckoning when we realise that bad habits consume our time, and come in the way of leading a fruitful life. Let’s look at three habits that you may need to analyse and proven methods to break them:
1. Automatic negative thoughts
“I am happy right now, but what if something goes wrong?” “I’m not good enough”. “I am doomed to failure”. “They will make fun of me”: these are examples of common negative thoughts which on repetition can turn into a habit.
Negative thoughts are especially insidious since they start small, and sometimes even subconsciously. But in the long term, they leave us drained of our mental energy, can interfere with sleep and heighten our anxiety. If left unchecked, they often pull us into depression and weaken our immune system.
How to deal with them:
Awareness is the first step. Negative thoughts are just thoughts after all, and like all thoughts, they pass too. Once we realise this, it gets much more comfortable to take control of them. Write them down with a journal’s help and rate your thoughts according to frequency and strength.
Also, note down what triggers them and how you react because of them, and you will see a pattern emerge. Many swear by the benefits of yoga and meditation when it comes to being mindful of thoughts.
Engaging in simple activities like taking a walk or taking a shower to divert your mind with a reward can go a long way. And if your thoughts leave you in a tangled mess and persist long after meditation or yoga, you might want to consult a professional to help you work through them.
2. Excessive Screen Time
This is a habit that millions worldwide are grappling with as you are reading this – binge-watching Netflix series, gaming, online shopping or just scrolling endlessly on social media.
Spending too much time on your phone or laptop, scrolling through people’s curated lives and gorgeous visuals designed to keep you hooked can ultimately leave you feeling unworthy and empty. Moreover, the blue light from the gadget screen disrupts the secretion of the hormone melatonin in your body, which in turn tricks your brain into believing that it’s still daytime.
Sitting in front of a screen for hours is also linked to gaining weight, developing back pain, irritation in the eyes or a headache. Studies have shown a clear link between screen time and depression – it is no wonder that nations and organisations have started formulating laws restricting screen time for children.
How to deal with it:
Time your activities in front of a screen. When it comes to limiting screen time, try watching a movie and switching off the gadget after that one movie. Avoid watching series for a while, and avoid eating in front of the screen, as it deepens the habit.
While working in front of your laptop, take a break of 15 minutes every two hours or so. During the break, try walking around your apartment, or doing sit-ups next to your desk and stretching your neck. Play some music and make some dance moves, and look away from the screen and read a physical copy of a book. You’d be surprised how far these simple initiatives can go.
This is something all of us are or have been guilty of at some point. Procrastination is defined as the act of delaying or postponing a task or a set of functions. Behavioural psychologists call this a result of time inconsistency. The primary reason behind procrastinating is that human beings value instant gratification over future rewards.
Trouble arises when procrastination becomes a habit, and we cannot control it. Delaying things that matter can result in a long list of pending tasks and make us feel overwhelmed or helpless later. This can further lead to regrets and consequently, depression.
How to deal with it:
Procrastination, being one of the universal human vices, has had many studies, experiments and talks conducted on it. Behavioural psychologists advise against castigating oneself for it but instead recommend learning how to procrastinate better.
Identify tasks you usually procrastinate on and couple them with things you love – for example, listen to your favourite playlist while doing the dishes or exercising. If you hate filling forms or doing admin work, time it and promise yourself a treat at the end of it.
If exercise is something you keep putting off, find a gym buddy, or even plan fitness goals with a friend over the phone and achieve them together. Invest in a new pair of running pants or a yoga mat and allow yourself to get excited about using it. Keep rewarding yourself for the challenging tasks, and you will see your habits, and consequently, your life transforms.
This can’t be stressed enough – it is crucial to prioritise your tasks. Write down the three most important things you need to accomplish today. Keep reminders or quotes which remind you not to fall into the loop.
Make use of visual cues – whenever you have completed a task, put a pin or move a marble from one container to another. This can be reinforced as one sees the progress they are making.
To Sum it Up:
Bad habits inflict all of us at some point in our lives, but things don’t have to be the same. Time and again, it has been proved that getting a hold on our vices is very much in our control – all we need is determination and a plan with achievable goals. In our profession, we routinely see people who came to us devoid of hope but turned their lives around, simply because they willed it. If you need someone to help identify troublesome habits or collaborate on a plan to break them, try consulting one of the therapists on our platform.