Conquering Destructive Habits: Strategies for Personal Transformation

Spread the love

Personal transformation has been the focus of some of the world’s greatest literature, both ancient and modern. It is difficult to think of the Bible without thinking about transforming experiences, or the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, the Dao De Jing, or the teachings of Jesus, Buddha or Sufi masters. Yet, historically, discussions of the process of transformation were the focus of church leaders, theologians or master teachers, and those teachers often spoke before large crowds or small monasteries or convents. Scientology and Eckankar offer responding strategies in the modern world. But in general, transformation has been thought of as a deeply personal process.

Defining Destructive Habits

For many of you, personal transformation may seem preposterous. Like the mythic Sisyphus who rolled his rock uphill only to see it fall to the valley floor time and again, however, personal transformation often appears a mythic, if not impossible goal. Destructive habits make certain of this fact. These critical parts of your psyche actively work against your interests, reinforcing instead a series of nonsensical, unreal patterns of self-degradation and annihilation. If you find positive personal transformation can never be possible, reconsider. Perhaps you have not yet paid enough attention to the cumulative damage of destructive habits. A clearer understanding of the mechanisms of destructive habits might help you believe in and achieve personal transformation.

Although most of us seek personal transformation, we often don’t realize that these destructive events and states ultimately result from destructive habits. Reflect on this for a moment: What are the negative events and states obstructing your personal transformation? When have you felt small, limited, or simply being out of sync with your personal potential? What bad things have happened to you because of your bad patterns and worse behaviors? Chances are these negative events or, if they repeat, the patterns of negative habits cause your most intense personal pain. Why? Because these harmful events have caused you to lose your beautiful, powerful connection with what you value most in life. And to add insult to this injury, it is your own set of bad habits lurking inside of yourself that is doing the damage!

Understanding Destructive Habits

Habitual behavior, even when it can have severe negative results, is often undertaken without any conscious realization. Behavior can be influenced by prevailing social norms. Taking cues from others reduces the necessity of actually having to think. Lack of knowledge about making changes can also act as a barrier to personal change. By understanding change processes and using appropriately combined personal strengths, habitual behavior can be shifted in a more positive direction. With time, effort, and a positive client-therapist relationship, destructive life patterns can be changed.

Why do we continue with habits that have destructive results? Ignoring the problem doesn’t work, especially when the motivation for change stops as soon as the latest book is put back on the shelf. Understanding what supports destructive habits, such as persistent alcohol abuse, smoking, overeating, neglecting exercise, and general everyday laziness, offers an easier method of finding corrective solutions. Destructive habits show a lower value in direct comparison to immediate positive benefits. They happen more often when a person’s self-control has been weakened by stress, distraction, or temptation. Instant gratification takes priority because the sooner rewards are available, the more they are valued.

Psychological and Behavioral Aspects

Somehow, destructive habits require a comprehensive diagnostic approach that identifies multi-causal aspects of the problem type. Importantly, one needs to go beyond the simple solution single cause model. Understanding that individuals use habits to substitute characteristic and central issues is of great value to those helping people who manifest unwanted habits. For example, habits assist one in being motivated and focused, but they are not in themselves motivated or focused.

A key principle about unwanted and, in some cases, destructive habits is that they evolve over time. In contrast to a one-transforming-type event, there usually does not exist a simple one-cause. It is a complex problem exploited by a single solution principle. Let me also stress that it is quite common for a particular problem or unwanted habit to be complex, involving multiple destructive habits. For example, under-performing in school and overeating in a primary school child can have a common cause: being unhappy or dissatisfied with school, which causes both unfulfilled school work potential and overeating.

Identifying Your Destructive Habits

Every successful series of activities demands a strategy. Where the habits you would change concern something not related to an entrenched class of core values and ways of thinking, there are plenty of useful strategies to emulate. Even in diving those habits with which we have woven a rich tapestry help shape our character, and all share some elements derived from our long evolution. A too radical realignment of our activities and attitudes can temporarily disrupt our balance. But there are inherent destructive habits deep in our collective unconscious. These were not directly initiated to fulfill our basic needs as individuals within the family of man. It seems important, therefore, when we can determine these rather encompassing behavioral trends, to embark on a measured and deliberate course of corrective change.

A war on negative habits that have been deeply ingrained in our behavior patterns demands firm resolve, a solid strategy, and ample resources. The first step involves a transparently honest look at ourselves. We have to identify the destructive habits before we can change them. There are other approaches, of course. Some urge us to cultivate new positive habits, hoping the old negative ones will fade away. Others suggest methods of behavior modification based on addressing the rewards that reinforce a given habit. Still, others impose guidelines, regulations, or taboos to force the shift in behavior. Sometimes such means are effective, particularly when used in combination. But in the long run, an appeal to reason, to the conscience and the higher nature of man is generally the most reliable. This is why we concentrate on methods of personal transformation. First, therefore, we must identify our destructive habits. You may say “What habits?” Actually, we all share some characteristics. Each of us has ways of behavior, usually established early in our lives, which help to form our very personhood.

Self-Reflection and Awareness

Numerous ways are available to heighten self-awareness. Over the ages, methods have been repeated which have worked sufficiently well for many. When Diogenes was asked where are most people, he replied “We are lost,” and said when asked? “Lost to themselves,” he replied. Engaging a psychological healing and spiritual growth practitioner who possesses the skills capable of creating alliances and providing context to permit complete disclosure can also be revealing. Firm friends could offer some helpful feedback if they are aware of your present motivation and can be enlisted to change any issues. Establishing proper and challenging goals and enticing direction are the building blocks of any sound personal exploration. Effective managers and consultants function in similar ways, except that they often distill the essence of such viewpoints in a way that is tangible for their respective industries.

In understanding the forces that drive our daily behaviors, self-reflection and awareness are vital. Stressful and resistant moments create self-awareness, even if it is simply through physical signals, such as a tight chest. With increasing awareness, we can realize that changing any patterns and appearing consistent from the outside are not at all the same. In promoting awareness, we deepen our understanding of motivation which drives current self-defeating behaviors, track daily psychological and physiological harmful influences, and critically consider our overall healthy functioning. A turning point is reached when we grasp that our lives can be enriched if we attend to the incremental and long-term success associated with abolishing behaviors that presently stand in our way.

Strategies for Overcoming Destructive Habits

Another effective strategy for achieving personal change involves the utilization of counterconditioning. Counterconditioning represents a powerful intervention technique designed to weaken negative habits and increase more desirable behaviors. The intent of this procedure is to overcome maladaptive urges, actions, and emotional experience by incorporating positive components. Researchers involved in the development of counterconditioning endorse the value of positive behaviors as a means of changing an individual’s long-standing negative habits. However, training techniques associated with shaping new, more constructive habits can be difficult. It may also be necessary to develop a specific plan for accomplishing an alternate action with increments corresponding to the scale of the negative habit being replaced.

The key to achieving personal change is to implement strategies that are specifically designed to help us overcome our destructive habits. While no simple formula can instantly transform our behaviors, researchers have developed various intervention strategies that have proven effective in facilitating lasting change. One of the most successful strategies for creating lasting personal transformation is the practice of self-liberation. Self-liberating individuals analyze the addictive habits that are compelling them and recognize the consequences of their misconduct. They view their self-destructive behavior as unacceptable, feel alienated, and act affirmatively to implement desired personal change. Their process of freeing themselves from addictions and leading a self-regulated lifestyle requires either drastic changes in the nature of their habits or a relinquishment of their destructive behaviors.

Cognitive Behavioral Techniques

Therapeutic procedures used to affect changes in undesired thought patterns owe a great deal to the principles and techniques developed by Ellis. The basic premise of RET is that thoughts and beliefs, rather than events or people, cause feelings. Therefore, if people can be helped to think rationally, they will be able to feel more positively about themselves and to function more effectively. RET believes that environmental events in themselves do not cause feelings but that it is more the individual’s perceptual framework in relation to these events. RET is more concerned with the functioning of the present than with its causes. Accordingly, the therapist does not spend much time exploring the traumatic experiences of the past but finds out more about how the individual currently views the world, what he expects to happen, and how he interprets what happens. When the information-gathering phase is completed, the therapist will fashion treatment approaches that are designed to aid the individual in discovering the cognitive distortions that contribute to maladaptive emotional responses.

Last but certainly not least among the techniques designed to alter undesired thought patterns is Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) proposed by Albert Ellis in 1962. Among Ellis’ major contributions is the concept of irrational thinking. According to Ellis, irrational thoughts can lead to extreme behaviors if one allows oneself to think about situations in “absolutes” instead of considering all possible alternatives. Failure is not only considered as failure but turns into “I am a failure”. Conversely, success is not a single victory but success should always be “the ideal.” By identifying these irrational thoughts in oneself, one can learn to change them through cognitive behavioral techniques. One of the better techniques is to dissect desires by changing the expressions of “I must” and “I need” to “I wish” or “I’d like to.” It is important to recognize that irrational thoughts can be changed only if one really wants to change those thoughts. Therefore, one has to be sincere in facing oneself to overcome emotional problems.

Maintaining Progress and Preventing Relapse

This research subtracts from the typical clinical findings and anecdotal literature experiences, to derive psychological antecedents of performance before the process of decision-making. As a result, it offers the way to design tactics which an individual can use in the construction of changes conducive to maintenance. The Sino and Postimonials, who are quoted throughout, are now in year six of this maintenance or relapse prevention. Although their stories are comforting, there will be the occasional naysayer. It is people convinced only by ironclad clinical data who will likely require some failure before their conscience permits them to accept their own personal instincts and evidence of long-term solutions. Regrettably, this human trait has always existed, and for some people may well outlast us all.

A great observation about change came from integrity management guru, Bill O’Brien: “The faster we run, the more we catch up to ourselves.” Bill made this point to underscore that it makes little difference where a journey starts except where it leads. People working hard to turn lives around – to stop drinking or overeating, to make a marriage work, to tell children the truth about their lives, or make the bell of integrity ring – understand it takes shoe leather. But where is the progress? The business of permanent growth demands we “hold growth.” How do we keep working our strategies daily, yearly, in many faces – in the marathon of “I am becoming”? Start thinking about the issue of maintenance before you make significant changes. We owe it to ourselves to think strategies to prevent a relapse of tough, valuable growth decisions we make.