What’s a bad habit?
A bad habit can be described as a “negative behavior pattern. Common examples include procrastination, overspending, nail-biting and spending too much time watching television or using a computer” (Suzanne LeVert, Gary R. Mc Lane). Although many bad habits can be viewed as harmless, others have a deeper impact and may even lead to addiction.
Habit versus addiction
The terms “habit” and “addiction” are often interchanged and some view them as meaning the same. The major difference between them is that a habit can be positive or negative, good or bad, whereas an addiction is only negative and can impede your physical and psychological well-being.
It can at times be difficult to qualify a behavior pattern as a “bad habit” or an “addiction”, especially when referring to substance use or abuse: drinking coffee, drinking alcohol, smoking, eating junk food. While some behavioral patterns are easy to identify (e.g. nail-biting is clearly defined as a bad habit and cocaine abuse an addiction), others are trickier: is spending too much time watching TV, on the internet, shopping, etc. considered a bad habit or an addiction?
Other criteria generally used in distinguishing between a bad habit and an addiction are the amount of time and effort required to change the behavior, the severity of negative physical symptoms like withdrawal, and the impact the behavior has on an individual’s social functioning.
How do habits form?
According to Charles Duhigg, every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a “habit loop”. The loop consists of a cue or trigger, routine and then reward. The cue/trigger tells our brain to go into automatic mode. An example is always making a cup of coffee when you wake up. Drinking the cup of coffee is the routine behavior – something you do without really making the decision to do it. The reward comes from the satisfaction that the performance of the habit brings.
Why is it difficult to get rid of a bad habit?
Bad habits are encoded into the brain because they serve a biological or emotional function. From a psychological point of view, bad habits and addictions fill a certain void created by unsatisfied needs. These needs can appear on several levels, and a habit is an easy and quick way to fulfill them or alleviate their manifestations. In many cases, a bad habit is an outlet for stress.
Breaking bad habits with sophrology
Sophrology offers a practical approach to breaking bad habits such as smoking for example. A similar approach can be found in mindfulness.
How does it work?
Step one – Awareness
The first step focuses on the recognition and awareness of the behavior you want to stop. This step aims to identify your different needs related to the habit or addiction, so the biological or emotional function it fulfills in your case, and its contexts or triggers, but also to identify the difficulties that you might meet as you work to break it.
Practically, this part of the program starts with practices such as a mindful body scan and dynamic relaxation, to help you become aware of your bodily sensations without necessarily aiming at a specific habit-related sensation.
Gradually these two practices will focus on becoming aware of sensations in your body related to the habit (e.g. cravings) and identifying the underlying needs.
Step two – Management
Once the needs and the difficulties have been identified, the next step is to learn and develop more positive ways to manage these needs through simple physical practices aimed at managing physical needs and reducing stress, tension, and cravings.
During this phase, your sophrologist will help you develop and reinforce a positive self-image as well as different ways to fulfill your core needs and values through different and positive behavior.
Step three – Integration
This step aims to connect you to all the positive aspects that will follow your change in behavior. For example, visualization practices whereby you imagine a future where you are completely free of the bad habit and are enjoying your time through new or different things.
A key element to successfully achieving your goal and producing long-lasting changes is to repeat the practices regularly, after each session with the sophrologist. Personal motivation also plays an important role in breaking bad habits.
This is generally a 15-session program that can be tailored to each individual’s need during private or group sessions. The cost will vary depending on the sophrologist and the choice of private or group sessions. For individual sessions, prices may range from $40 to $60 per session. For group sessions, prices may range from $350 to $500 for the full program.
For more information on sophrology you can read my earlier article that explains the basics of sophrology.